Argentina’s bishops release baptism records of war’s missing children

VATICAN CITY — Argentina’s bishops announced they would release 127 baptism certificates archived in a chapel at a naval facility was used as a place of torture during the country’s military dictatorship.

Some human rights groups believe these documents may be instrumental in finding out what happened to the children who were baptized in the chapel and subsequently kidnapped. The baptized were primarily the children of political prisoners, and during Argentina’s “dirty war,” it was commonplace for these children to be illegally adopted by military families.

“We firmly believe that the church should do all that it can to contribute to the path of memory, truth and justice in all fields, especially due to the gravity of the crimes against humanity perpetrated during the years of state terrorism from 1976 to 1983,” the Argentine bishops’ conference said in a statement March 6.

The bishops said the decision to release the documents was heavily influenced by the wishes of Pope Francis. Then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future pope, was head of the Jesuit province in the country from 1973 to 1979, the height of the clandestine war that saw as many as 30,000 Argentines kidnapped, tortured, murdered or “disappeared.”

Pope Francis had met with the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo soon after becoming pope and promised he would do all he could to help them in their work.

The 127 certificates of baptism celebrated at the chapel between 1975 and 1984 will be handed over to federal judge Sergio Torres. The Associated Press reported officials estimate as many as 5,000 people had been taken to the military base, and very few survived. The base also had a clandestine maternity hospital, it reported.

As many as 500 children were among the many victims of the “dirty war.” According to the Grandmothers, the children were stolen from their parents and adopted by willing military families.

Church officials hope the newly released documents will help these children, who are now adults, learn who their biological parents are after years of uncertainty.