On Tuesday, the Vatican and the Episcopal Conference of Argentina (CEA) announced that they had finished digitising more than 3,000 documents related to Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship.
The documents include telegrams, official correspondence, and many letters that families wrote to the Church seeking assistance in their search for disappeared family members.
The CEA said that the records will be opened, but not to the public. Victims’ immediate family members will be able to request specific documents. In the case of victims who were members of the clergy, their religious superiors will also be able to view the files. The Church announced that it will establish a protocol for requests to access the files.
Top leaders of the CEA were present at the announcement, including Archbishop of Santa Fe and CEA President José María Arancedo, Archbishop of Buenos Aires and CEA Vice President Mario Aurelio Poli, and Bishop of Chascomús and CEA Secretary Carlos Humberto Malfa.
Pope Francis also played a role in the Vatican’s decision to open the archives. Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke indicated that the files might be opened to a wider audience in the future.
The documents serve as a record of the Church’s actions during the period. They show many steps that the Church took on behalf of the disappeared, including official inquiries. They also show cases in which the Church could have done more. Poli said that the Church had not edited or selected documents for the digital records. “We are not afraid of the archives,” he said.
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the Argentine human rights activist and recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize, called the move “a very important step.” Nora Cortiñas, of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, said that the announcement had been “anticipated for many years.” However, some human rights groups criticised the limits on access to the files.
Poli stated, “The truth always comes out, even if it hurts.”
The announcement comes a week after France said that it would release classified documents from the era. And in August, the US government made public the first batch of newly declassified intelligence files, shedding more light on the information Washington DC had about human rights during the dictatorship.