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Argentine Families Expect Pope to Open Dictatorship Files

FILE - Pope Francis prays during a Mass at Rizal Park, in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 18, 2015.
FILE - Pope Francis prays during a Mass at Rizal Park, in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 18, 2015.

Family members of people forcibly "disappeared" during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship are hoping Pope Francis will order the opening of files from the era.

Graciela Palacio de Lois, a member of the group Families of the Disappeared and Held for Political Reasons, said Thursday that the Argentine-born pope showed signs of wanting to release the files during a meeting with the group.

The files contain complaints to the papal nuncio in Argentina and the episcopate by familes of those disappeared during the military crackdown, including Palacio de Lois' letter denouncing the 1976 disappearance of her husband.

"The Vatican would just send us a brief reply saying they had received it,'' Palacio de Lois said.

But she said that when the head of her group, Angela "Lita" Boitano, personally asked the pope to have the files released, he responded: "We're on it.''

Boitano also asked Francis to deliver "a self-criticism about the Argentine church" and its role during the dictatorship, Palacio de Lois said. Some human rights groups have accused Argentina's Catholic Church of being an "accomplice'' to the military's repression.

"The pope also said they're working on that and they're preparing a document," Palacio de Lois said. She said all that information was later confirmed by Monsignor Giuseppe Laterza, an official in the Vatican secretariat of state.

Official estimates say about 13,000 people were killed or disappeared in a government-sponsored crackdown on leftist dissidents during Argentina's "Dirty War."

Human rights activists believe the real number was as high as 30,000.