Argentina's Catholic bishops deny ex-dictator's claim church played role in military regime

Roman Catholic bishops on Friday denied claims by a former dictator that the church was complicit in crimes committed by Argentina's 1976-1983 military regime.

The bishops said they were open to a profound review of the church's role during those years, which human rights groups say resulted in the killing of up to 30,000 people by the junta.

"We're committed to promoting a thorough study of these events in the search for truth, with the certainty that it will set us free," the bishops said in a statement. "That's why we're committed to review everything within our reach."

As they did 12 years ago, the bishops asked for forgiveness for the behavior of some members of the church during the brutal dictatorship.

Former dictator Jorge Videla said earlier this year that those who ran the church at the time were accomplices to criminal acts carried out in a government-sponsored crackdown on leftist dissidents during Argentina's "dirty war."

Videla is serving a life sentence for kidnapping, torture and murder.

He was also convicted and sentenced to 50 years earlier this year for a systematic program to steal babies from mothers who were held in torture centers. The babies were turned over to military families or to allies of the regime and illegally registered as their children.

The activist group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo says some 500 children were born while their mothers were in captivity.

The bishops urged anyone with information on the "disappeared" or on the stolen children to contact the authorities.

"We know there are deep open wounds among many families after the kidnapping, seizing, or the disappearance of a loved one," the bishops' statement said. "We share everyone's pain and once again ask the forgiveness of everyone we failed or didn't support as we should have."

While denying the church was complicit in the dictatorship's crimes, the bishops said they did not know "in-depth" how much their predecessors "personally knew about what was really going on" at the time.

Argentina's Catholic Church apologized in 2000 for mistakes made during the dictatorship.

In a statement then, the church said: "We ask forgiveness for our responsibility in being silent and the participation of your children in ... the violation of liberties, torture and betrayal, in political persecution and ideological intransigence."