The Catholic Church has announced that it will hand over to judges more than 100 certificates from baptisms performed in a chapel at the ex-ESMA Navy School of Mechanics, the site that served as a clandestine torture centre during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983).
Activists hope the information will help determine what happened to children taken from political prisoners at the center and later illegally adopted, often by military families. Human rights groups say most of the detained biological parents were later killed.
"We firmly believe the Church should make every effort to contribute to the path of memory, truth and justice in all fields, especially given the gravity of the crimes against humanity committed during the years of state terrorism from 1976 to 1983," the Argentine Episcopal Conference said in a statement.
The bishops said the decision was a response to "a longing of Pope Francis," the Argentine-born pontiff who previously promised human rights groups that the church would hand over documentation to help clarify the crimes committed by the military regime.
In total, 127 certificates from baptisms performed between 1975 and 1984 at the chapel in the ex-ESMA Navy School of Mechanics will be given to Federal Judge Sergio Torres, who is handling cases related to the torture centre. About 5,000 dissidents are believed to have been taken there and very few survived. The centre also had a clandestine maternity hospital.
The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo group estimates that at least 500 children were stolen from their dissident parents and adopted by others. To date, 127 of these adopted babies – now adults – have been able to determine who their biological parents were.
The head of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, has met with Francis at the Vatican on two occasions and had asked that the church provide the information.
Human rights groups say about 30,000 dissidents were killed during the dictatorship, while the official figure is about 8,000.