Anchorage Daily Newspaper / A-7

May 21, 1997

Group wants papal envoy tried

Former diplomat denies role in Argentina torture slayings

By CANDICE HUGHES The Associated Press

ROMEŅA leading Argentine human rights group has asked Italy to prosecute the pope's former envoy to Argentina for his alleged role in the torture, slaying and disappearance of thousands of people during the so-called "dirty war."

The accusations against Pio Laghi, one of the Roman Catholic Church's most prominent cardinals, were brought by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who have campaigned for 20 years on behalf of victims of Argentina's military dictatorship.

In a complaint lodged Monday, they asked Italy's justice ministry to prosecute Laghi for alleged torture, murder and kidnapping while he was papal ambassador to Argentina from 1974 to 1980.

They also want Pope John Paul II to lift Laghi's diplomatic immunity so he can be brought to trial.

Laghi, who was also papal envoy to Washington, now holds one of the Vatican's most influential posts as head of the Congregation of Catholic Education, which oversees church schooling worldwide.

He accused the Mothers on Tuesday of acting out of malice toward him. "They have no proof," he said.

The allegations of "this group of Argentine women are defamatory and without any content or foundation," Laghi said.

The Vatican declined to comment on the case.

In their complaint, the Mothers accuse Laghi of having firsthand knowledge of the torture, killing and kidnapping of suspected political dissidents and say he collaborated closely with the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

The complaint includes the testimony of a bishop, several priests, a mother superior and two other people who said they saw Laghi at the government's secret prisons.

The complaint alleges Laghi decided the fate of some detainees and personally approved the expulsion or execution of liberal priests.

Picture - [by ANDREW MEDICHINI / The Associated Press] Luarta Badillo, left, and Hebe de Bonafini hold a news conference Tuesday in Rome.