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2 convicted in Dirty War death of Argentine bishop

July 4, 2014

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Two former senior military officers were sentenced to life in prison Friday for one of the emblematic crimes of the country’s long dictatorship: the death of Roman Catholic Bishop Enrique Angelelli

The court in the northern city of La Rioja imposed life sentences on former army chief Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 86, and former Vice-Commodore Luis Fernando Estrella, 82.

Details of the ruling are to be released in September.

Angelelli was one of the most left-leaning bishops in a generally conservative religious establishment when he died in an automobile crash in August 1976, shortly after the military seized power and began a Dirty War crackdown on suspected leftists.

For decades, officials insisted the death was accidental.

The case was reopened in 2010 when a former priest who had been riding with the bishop, Arturo Pinto, said that their car had been forced off the road.

The future Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was on good terms with Angelelli, though he did not embrace the socialist-influenced Liberation Theology of the elder man.

As head of the Jesuits in Argentina, Bergoglio intervened at Angelelli’s request to save three seminarians after other Catholic lay workers were killed in western La Rioja province in 1976.

The seminarians were being followed by the same death squads and accused of being “contaminated with Marxist ideas.” No one else would take them.

Bergoglio was able to rescue Mario La Civita, Enrique Martinez and Raul Gonzalez just as Angelelli was assassinated in August 1976.

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