Angelelli, Enrique Ángel

Angelelli, Enrique Ángel
(1923–1976)
   Roman Catholic bishop of La Rioja, Argentina. Born in the province of Córdoba, the son of Italian immigrants, Angelelli was ordained in 1949 and completed canon-law studies in Rome after his ordination. In his first appointment, as vicar in his native province, his duties included leading the Juventud Obrera Católica (Catholic Workers’ Youth) and teaching canon law and theology.
   In 1960 he was elevated to the rank of Auxiliary Bishop of Córdoba. Bishop Angelelli participated in the Second Vatican Council, and in 1968 Pope Paul VI elevated him to the rank of bishop in the archdiocese of La Rioja. According to sources, including articles by Horacio Verbitsky in El País, Bishop Angelelli soon came into conflict with local landowners and traditional Catholic sectors in La Rioja by supporting the creation of trade unions—both for miners and for agricultural and domestic workers. In addition, he urged the creation of workers’ cooperatives for producing bread, bricks, clocks, and textiles and for expropriating idle agricultural lands. From the pulpit, he denounced social ills: drugs, gambling, prostitution, and usury.
   During the 1973 election campaign, Carlos Saúl Menem, a candidate for governor of La Rioja province, reiterated his support for creating agricultural cooperatives to take over idle lands. In July Bishop Angelelli visited the city of Anillaco—Menem’s birthplace—and was promptly expelled by a violent demonstration of landowners, including Menem’s brother, Amado. During a 1974 visit to Rome, the bishop was warned to remain in exile because his name had appeared among those marked for execution by the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina (AAA, Argentine Anticommunist Alliance). Yet Bishop Angelelli resumed his duties in the archdiocese and, prior to the 1976 military coup, came into conflict with the local military by lodging a protest against the detention of Monsignor Esteban Inestal, the vicar general of La Rioja province, and two young members of the diocesan Movimiento Rural, one of the driving forces behind the cooperatives’ efforts to expropriate idle lands. After the 1976 coup, the bishop presented a report to the first plenary session of the Argentine Episcopal Conference in which he detailed 37 instances of the military’s persecution and harassment of the Catholic Church in La Rioja province, including the detention of priests, nuns, and seminarians; the inspection and confiscation of the luggage and documents of people attending religious retreats; and the firing, detention, and interrogation of lay workers.
   On 13 June 1976 local landowners organized a religious celebration named Día de la Defensa de la Fe (Day of the Defense of the Faith), and Colonel Osvaldo Pérez Battaglia, the chief of the 141 Engineers Battalion of La Rioja, ordered a military parade in support of the celebration. A local priest, Carlos de Dios Murias, denounced the celebration, and on 18 June 1976 Father Murias and another priest, Gabriel Longueville, were kidnapped from their residence. Their bodies were found two days later; autopsy reports included details of torture and mutilation. The bodies had been covered with army blankets, and beside them was a list of names of other priests, presumably a warning. Colonel Pérez Battaglia suppressed the publication of the assassinations, though the army issued a communiqué detailing further operations to eradicate “subversive elements” from the province.
   Soon after, Bishop Angelelli began gathering information on the assassinations. On 4 August 1976 he visited El Chamical to attend a religious ceremony for the murdered priests. He then drove to La Rioja accompanied by another priest, Arturo Pinto. According to Father Pinto, an unknown vehicle forced their pickup off the road at a point called Punta de los Llanos. The bishop was found dead close to the pickup. Witnesses reported that the body lay in a posture at odds with the trajectory of a body thrown from a moving vehicle, and the coroner’s report attributed the death to a fractured skull caused by a blunt object. Nevertheless, according to Verbitsky, Colonel Pérez Battaglia ordered a local newspaper to report that the bishop died in “a car accident caused by the explosion of the rear left tire.” Three days after Bishop Angelelli’s burial, a group of Argentine clergy directed a request to Raúl Francisco Cardinal Primatesta, the archbishop of Córdoba and the president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, urging him to speak in protection of their ranks. Cardinal Primatesta counseled the “prudence of snakes,” reminding the religious that “hay tempus loquendi y tempus tacendi” (there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent). The Vatican, through the L’Osservatore Romano, described Bishop Angelelli’s death as a strange accident. During the years of the dictatorship, however, several bishops individually denounced the slaying. Among them were Jaime de Nevares, the bishop of Neuquén and a founding member of the Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos (APDH, Permanent Assembly for Human Rights); Jorge Novak, the bishop of Quilmes and the founder of the Movimiento Ecuménico por los Derechos Humanos (MEDH, Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights); and Miguel Hessayne, the bishop of Río Negro. The slaying was also denounced by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Emilio Mignone, one of the founders of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS, Center for Legal and Social Studies).
   On 19 June 1986, after the return of civilian rule, Judge Aldo Morales of La Rioja declared the incident “a coldly premeditated murder.” In El País, Verbitsky has linked Colonel Pérez Battaglia to another mysterious car accident, which claimed the life of Carlos Horacio Ponce de León, the Bishop of San Nicolás de los Arroyos. On 2 August 2006 President Néstor Kirchner declared 4 August a national day of mourning. In his remarks, he remembered religious workers victimized by state terrorism. To date, neither the Argentine Catholic Church nor the Vatican has officially condemned the assassination of Bishop Angelelli.

Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . . 2010.

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