Vatican urges truth over French monks slain in Algeria in 1996

Vatican urges truth over French monks slain in Algeria in 1996

BBC Monitoring European, 8 July 2008

Text of report by Italian privately-owned centrist newspaper La Stampa website, on 7 July

[Interview with Card Renato Raffaele Martino, chairman of Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, by Giacomo Galeazzi in Vatican City; date not given: « Card Martino, Vatican’s Minister for Peace: ‘We Want the Truth Over the Slain Monks' » – first paragraph is La Stampa introduction]

Vatican City – The new claims regarding the massacre of the seven monks in Algeria are surprising and disturbing. And they cannot be dismissed a priori as mere fantasy, because it would not be the first time that, regarding the killing of members of the clergy, official versions of the truth are contradicted » [as received; no opening speech marks]. The man clutching « Propaganda Fide »‘s lengthy list of priests and nuns slaughtered every year across the world, and denouncing the « tragic divide, to the detriment of the Church, between the actual truth and official versions of the truth provided by national authorities, » was Card Renato Raffaele Martino, the chairman of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, a veteran Vatican diplomat, and a former nuncio to Nicaragua, the Philippines, Lebanon, Canada, Thailand, the UN, and many other countries. « Often, missionaries are awkward figures, both for the regimes and for the rebels, because they show that, even in crisis areas, one can live unarmed and outside of hatred – explained the Vatican’s minister of peace – In civil wars, truth is the first casualty. Too many murders are hastily classified as robberies, or abductions which went wrong. »

[Galeazzi] From the affair reopened by the investigation by La Stampa regarding the monks who were massacred in Algeria, to the strange deaths of missionaries in South America, are official reconstructions beginning to wear thin?

[Martino] The Holy See is a state without military legions, and every year it has to deal with 30 or so cases of monks and nuns killed across the world. I was in Brazil recently, where Sister Dorothy Stang was assassinated in the Amazonian state of Para: she had been on the death list of the big estate-owners for some time, but the local authorities did nothing to defend her in the highly delicate battle against deforestation, and on behalf of the poor. Now her beatification cause is about to be introduced.

[Galeazzi] Are there too many black holes in the versions provided by military regimes and governments in the Third World?

[Martino] When a tragedy happens, a formal explanation is given to the Holy See which at times is a convenient version. I myself, in several circumstances, have found myself in situations of serious danger, and I know that, when on missions, the enemies are sometimes not the ones who appear to be the enemies. Often one ends up caught in the cross-fire. For example, the military and the rebels. I have just visited the communities in northern Uganda. There, members of the clergy are very exposed, and they are aware of this, precisely as the monks of Algeria were.

[Galeazzi] Have you come across state versions of the truth such as the version which is claimed in the case of the slaughter in Algeria?

[Martino] Yes, it has happened to me that the authorities have served us up a manipulated version, a convenient version, to justify acts of violence against monks and nuns who had borne witness, with their blood, to service to God.

[Galeazzi] What can the Church do?

[Martino] Seek the authentic truth. The monks of Algeria were linked to the Tre Fontane Trappists, and the abbot of the monastery went personally to Algeria to find out how things went. Their mission is to pray, like nuns who have taken a vow of seclusion. A sign which has irritated some people. The Holy See must examine by itself, on a case-by-case basis, especially by means of the pontifical offices in situ. I am put in mind of my collaborator at the UN Conference in Cairo, Michael Courtney, the apostolic nuncio who was killed in Burundi. Martyrs are a « scandal, » because they show that people can live side by side in peace, and get people who are divided to form agreements. They are easy victims, and the authorities do not defend them in the way that they should. They certainly do not deploy personal protection for nuns and priests.

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