As with U.S. pedophile priests, I had heard for years that there was muck in the ranks of the Argentine Catholic clergy that would one day come to light. No one who spent as many years as I have reading the Catholic hierarchy's tea leaves and observing the peculiar sociology of Argentina could have remained oblivious to the obvious existence for generations of "funny" priests and fascists in Roman collar.
My wonder is that it has taken so long for the first of the Argentine latter to find himself in richly deserved prison.
My astonishment is compounded by the operetta name worthy of The Producers of convicted priest Christian Federico von Wernich, whom I almost expect to leap up into a high-kicking stage parade to the tune of "Springtime for Hitler in Germany." I couldn't have made him up if I had tried.
That he is not being executed is a tribute to the absence of a capital penalty in Argentina -- a legal nicety that did not deter the military goons of the last dictatorship.
Time in prison will afford the former police chaplain the solitude needed to confront the heinous nature of his deeds.
The testimony of tens of survivors from the clandestine detention centers set up by the military regime certainly has not chastened the priest's lawyer, Juan Martín Cerolini, who told La Nación that: "There's disparity in the treatment of the victims who died unjustly in the 1970s. There's a closeness to one sector, which is subsidized, financed and placed in public office, while toward the other victims there is neither warmth nor concern. Each time that there has been a public act of remembrance of those killed by subversion they have been minimized."Von Wernich approached him and, standing up, offered his left hand. The prisoner took it with his two hands and clung to it, pleading: “Father, Father, please, I do not want to die, I do not want to die.” The priest watched him with a mix of pity and disdain, and soon enough he offered a solution: "Son, you know that the lives of the men who are inside here depend on God and the cooperation they can offer. If you want to continue living, you already know what you have to do."-- my translation of an extract from Maldito Tú Eres: Iglesia y Represión Ilegal (Cursed Thou Art: Church and Illegal Repression) by Hernán Brienza
He added: "We're not fatuous. We recognize that tortures, kidnappings and murders in that terrible time were committed in the name of the State, but we cannot accept the application of cosmetics to the past. That's not history but propaganda, just like what the Nazis disseminated."
Of course, where would we be without an application of Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies? To boot, by the party most analogous to dear old Adolf's cronies.
Somewhat greater circumspection has come from Von Wernich's bishop, who asked vaguely for forgiveness and even suggested that some canonical action might be taken. Don't hold your breath on even that loophole-riddled pseudo-promise.
Surprised? Von Wernich is still technically a priest in good standing.
Given that the Vatican is hiding the chief child-rapist hider from Boston, one Bernard Cardinal Law, from the reach of U.S. law, what chance is there that they're going to throw out a priest who helped anti-Communists, no matter how murderously? I've got a nice bridge in Brooklyn for those who expect decency from the Catholic hierarchy.
What makes pedophiles look good? Father Christian Federico von Wernich.