By Luciana Bertoia Herald Staff
Judge Torres is investigating the killing of five priests and seminarians in 1976
A probe into the massacre of five members of the Pallottine religious community during the last dictatorship is currently making progress in court. More than 37 years after the killings, Judge Sergio Torres is hearing statements by some of the colleagues and relatives of the priests and seminarians who were assassinated by a death squad in St. Patrick’s Church in the City neighbourhood of Belgrano.
Yesterday, a Pallottine priest and a brother of one of the victims gave their testimonies before the magistrate who is in charge of investigating the crimes committed at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA) clandestine detention centre. Though the members of the Irish religious community were not taken to the notorious clandestine detention centre located on Avenida del Libertador, there is evidence linking the repressors who operated there with the massacre that took place on July 4, 1976. On that cold night, Fathers Alfredo Leaden, Alfredo “Alfie” Kelly and Pedro Duffau were shot dead alongside young seminarians Salvador Barbeito and Emilio Barletti. In the seventies, the Pallottines’ openness to youth led to some criticisms from within the neighbourhood in which the St. Patrick’s church is located. Father “Alfie” Kelly was branded a communist, which was an epithet that annoyed him to the extent that he made reference to it in the last notes he wrote in his diary. “People who used to come to listen to Father Duffau are not coming any longer because my sermons are too political… It’s clear that my sermons are too hard for conservatives, especially those focused on social injustice. I receive criticism from inside, saying that I’m too lenient with seminarians,” he wrote. When neighbours discovered the bodies of the members of the Pallottine congregation on July 4, 1976, they found two messages written on walls by the perpetrators: “This happened to you for poisoning youths’ minds” and “We are taking revenge for our comrades killed in Coordinación Federal’s bombing.” The latter referred to a bomb placed in that building by members of the armed left-wing Peronist organization Montoneros two days before the St.Patrick’s massacre, which killed 23 people. Making progress Now the case that darkened the religious community is currently being investigated by Judge To-rres, who is expected to gather testimonies and evidence to take it to trial. Yesterday, Father Mariano Pinasco, a member of the church’s youth groups, testified before To-rres. “In the sermons, they used to make reference to forced disappearances that were taking place in the country. They were not liked by those who supported the March 1976 coup.” Pinasco also recalled that the priests and seminarians had been threatened with death, accordingly to what they wrote in their diaries. Gastón Barletti, Emilio’s brother, yesterday testified and said he wanted to be accepted as a plaintiff in the case. Emilio Barletti was one of the members of the religious community alleged to have had link with left-wing organizations. Last week, former priest Roberto Killmeate gave his testimony. Torres also listened to other survivors of the ESMA clandestine detention centre, who said that repressors bragged about the Pallotines killing. Survivor Graciela Daleo said that repressor Antonio Pernías told her about the murders and admitted they had carried it out. Pope Francis also expressed his intention to canonize the so-called “five martyrs of St. Patrick’s,” to show that the Catholic Church has not forgotten them. It might be difficult to say the same of the justice system, which has so far done little in their name. The Pallotine case has been stuck for years. In 1995, journalist Eduardo Kimel — who investigated the case during the years of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of dictatorship-era crimes — was given a one-year suspended prison sentence for slander and was also fined for accusing Judge Guillermo Rivarola of not investigating. Kimel’s case reached the Inter-American Human Rights Court and during the Kirchnerite administration the crimes of defamation and slander were abolished. @LucianaBertoia