Rome: The Vatican once dismissed reports of massacres by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as “Communist propaganda”, according to declassified US diplomatic documents from the 1970s on Monday.
One cable dated October 18, 1973 sent to Washington by the US embassy to the Holy See relayed a conversation with the Vatican’s then deputy Secretary of State, Giovanni Benelli.
Benelli expressed “his and the pope’s grave concern over successful international leftist campaign to misconstrue completely realities of Chilean situation,” read the cable to then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, which was published by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The pope at the time was Paul VI.
“Benelli labelled exaggerated coverage of events as possibly greatest success of Communist propaganda,” it said, adding that the Italian monsignor said this showed “how Communists can influence free world media in future”.
“As is unfortunately natural following coup d’etat, Benelli observed, there has admittedly been bloodshed during mopping up procedures in Chile,” it said.
But Benelli went on to say that Chilean bishops had assured him “that stories alleging brutal reprisals in international media are unfounded.”
The conversation took place five weeks after army general Pinochet took power in a coup that overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende, as thousands of perceived leftist sympathisers were being imprisoned and killed.
The cables also showed the Vatican later realised the full extent of the abuses being carried out but refused to criticise Pinochet’s regime openly and continued with normal diplomatic relations.
One cable said Chilean cardinal Raul Silva came to Rome in November 1974 and gave Paul VI “a rather pessimistic view of general Chilean situation, holding that he had little faith in present leadership’s desire to restore civil liberties.”
The cable quoted “reliable sources” saying Silva reported “that Pinochet usually blames excesses on other members of government who fail to carry out his instructions urging greater moderation.”
“Cardinal and Vatican tend to believe that Pinochet is using this device as a cynical tactic for drawing blame away from himself,” it said.