Enrique Angelelli

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Bishop Enrique Angelelli during mass

Enrique Ángel Angelelli (17 June 1923 – 4 August 1976) was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina, assassinated during the Dirty war for his involvement with social issues.

Angelelli, the son of Italian immigrants, was born in Córdoba and entered the seminary of Our Lady of Loreto at 15 years of age. He was then sent to Rome to finish his studies. He was ordained priest on 9 October 1949 and returned to Córdoba.

He started working in a parish, founded youth movements and visited Córdoba's slums. He focused his pastoral work on the conditions of the poor. Pope John XXIII appointed him auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Córdoba on 12 December 1960. He got involved in labor union conflicts and worked with other priests looking for a renewal of the Church, which caused him to be resisted. In 1964 he was removed from his post. That same year he took part in the Second Vatican Council.

La Rioja[edit]

Angelelli gave his tacit authorization to the May 1968 first Encounter of the Movement of Priests for the Third World even if he never joined the movement himself.

After four years, on 3 July 1968, Pope Paul VI appointed Angelelli bishop of the Diocese of La Rioja, in northwestern Argentina.

In La Rioja, Angelelli encouraged the creation of unions of miners, rural workers and domestic workers, as well as cooperatives to manufacture knitting works, bricks, clocks and bread, and to claim and work idle lands. One of these cooperatives asked for the expropriation of a latifundio (large estate) that had grown through the appropriation of smaller estates as their owners could not pay up their debts. Governor Carlos Menem, promised he would deliver the estate to the cooperative.

On 13 June 1973, Angelelli went to Anillaco, Menem's birthtown, to preside over the patronal feasts. He was received by a mob led by merchants and landowners, among them Amado Menem, the governor's brother, and his sons César and Manuel. The mob entered the church by force, and when Angelelli suspended the celebrations and left, they threw stones at him. Governor Menem withdrew his support to the cooperative on the basis of "social unrest". Angelelli denounced conservative groups, called off religious celebrations in the diocese, and declared a temporary interdict over the Menems and their supporters.

The Superior General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Vicente Faustino Zazpe, sent by the Holy See as an overseer, visited La Rioja and supported Angelelli, who had offered his resignation and asked the Pope to ratify or withdrew his trust. Before Zazpe, the interdicted demanded for Angelelli's removal, while military marches where broadcast through a loudspeaker. Almost all priests of the diocese met with Zazpe to support Angelelli and told him that "the powerful manipulated the faith to preserve an unjust and oppressed situation of the people" and to take advantage of the "cheap, underpaid workforce".

On the other hand, the president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, Adolfo Tortolo, said that the Conference should not mediate, and Nuncio Lino Zanini openly supported the interdicted, to whom he gave crucifixes as gifts.

Zazpe concluded his inspection with a joint mass with Angelelli and expressing his full support for his pastoral work and with regards to doctrine.

Dirty War[edit]

The short presidency of Isabel Martínez de Perón (1974-76) was marked by the beginning of the Dirty War, which soon escalated into bombings, kidnappings, torture and assassinations, triggering a persecution of left-wing views.

On 12 February 1976, the vicar of the diocese of La Rioja and two members of a social activist movement were arrested by the military. On 24 March, a coup d'état ousted Isabel Perón and all the nation's governors, including Carlos Menem of La Rioja (to whom Angelleli had earlier been a confessor). Angelleli petitioned General Osvaldo Pérez Battaglia, the new military interventor of La Rioja, for information on the vicar's and the activists' whereabouts. Getting no response, he travelled to Córdoba to speak to Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, then Commander of the Third Army Corps. Menéndez threateningly warned Angelelli: "It is you who have to be careful." [1]

The murder[edit]

Angelelli allegedly knew that he was being targeted for assassination by the military; people close to him had heard him many times say, "It's my turn next." On 4 August 1976, he was driving a truck together with Father Arturo Pinto, back from a mass celebrated in the town of El Chamical in homage of two murdered priests, Carlos de Dios Murias and Gabriel Longueville, carrying three folders with notes about both cases.

According to Father Pinto, a car started following them, then another one, and in Punta de los Llanos, people forced the truck between them until toppling it. After staying unconscious for a while, Pinto saw Angelelli dead in the road, with the back of his neck showing grave injuries "as if they had beaten him".

The area was quickly surrounded by police and military personnel. An ambulance was sent for. Angelelli's body was taken to the city of La Rioja. The autopsy revealed several broken ribs and a star-shaped fracture in the occipital bone, consistent with a blow given using a blunt object. The truck's brakes and steering wheel were intact, and there were no bullet marks.

The police report stated that Pinto had been driving, momentarily lost control of the vehicle, and when trying to get back on the road a tire blew out; Angelelli was said to have been killed as the truck turned several times. Judge Rodolfo Vigo accepted the report. A few days afterwards, prosecutor Martha Guzmán Loza recommended closing the case, calling it "a traffic event".

Other bishops (Jaime de Nevares, Jorge Novak and Miguel Hesayne) called the event a murder, even during the dictatorship, but the rest of the Church kept silent.

On 19 June 1986, the country already under democratic rule, La Rioja judge Aldo Morales sentenced that it had been "a homicide, coldly premeditated, and expected by the victim". When some military became involved in the accusation, the Armed Forces tried to block the investigation, but the judge rejected their claims. The case passed to the Supreme Court of Argentina, which in turn derived it to the Federal Chamber of Córdoba. The Córdoba tribunal said it was possible that the orders had come from Commander Menéndez of the Third Corps.

In April 1990, the Ley de Punto Final ("Full Stop Law") ended the investigation against the three military accused of the murder (José Carlos González, Luis Manzanelli and Ricardo Román Oscar Otero). This law and the Law of Due Obedience were repealed in 2005, and in August of that year the case was re-opened. The Supreme Court split the case in two: the accusation against the military was sent to the tribunals in Córdoba, and the possible participation of civilians in the murder was sent to La Rioja. Former Commander Menéndez was called on by the La Rioja tribunal on 16 May 2006 but chose not to declare anything.

Position of the Church[edit]

After the murder of Angelelli, the Catholic Church officially accepted the car accident story, but some of its members (as mentioned above) spoke against it. L'Osservatore Romano reported his death as "a strange accident", and Juan Carlos Aramburu denied it was a crime.

Ten years later, even after the sentence passed by Judge Morales in La Rioja, the hierarchy of the Church continued to avoid any references to murder. In 2001, a declaration emitted by the Argentine Episcopal Conference stated, "Death found him while fulfilling a difficult mission, accompany[ing] the communities hurt by the murder of their shepherds."

Homages to Angelelli[edit]

This memorial bust to Msgr. Angelelli is located at Chamical, a town in La Rioja.

On 2 August 2006, two days before the 30th anniversary of Angelelli's death, President Néstor Kirchner signed a decree declaring 4 August a national day of mourning, and gave a speech in the Casa Rosada "commemorating the religious workers [who were] victims of state terrorism". Alba Lanzillotto, a member of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo who used to attend mass sung by bishop Angelelli, spoke then regarding the belated homage of the Catholic hierarchy: "I don't want Monsignor to be made into a stamp. He has to be alive in our memory."

On the day of the anniversary, Jorge Bergoglio conducted mass in the Cathedral of La Rioja in memory of Angelelli. In his homily he claimed that Angelelli "got stones thrown at him because he preached the Gospel, and shed his blood for it", though he did not explicitly mention the involvement of the dictatorship in the crime. Bergoglio also quoted Tertullian's sentence "[the] blood of the martyrs [is the] seed of the Church". This was the first official homage of the Church to Angelelli, and the first time that the word martyr was used with reference to his murder by Church authorities in this context. After the mass, about 2,000 people (including the governor of La Rioja Ángel Maza) paid homage to Angelelli in Punta de los Llanos, the site of his death.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Andersen, Martin. Dossier Secrero. Westview Press, 1993.

External links[edit]