Bishop chastises Cardinal for comments on human rights

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, a longtime opponent of human rights groups and close ally to the military, was harshly criticized Monday by Monsignor Luis Bambarén, Bishop emeritus of Chimbote, for his comments on human rights groups and his opinion that “it has become fashionable” to malign the Armed Forces and National Police.

“I will be very clear,” said Bambarén in comments to the state news agency, Andina. “If he kept silent in Ayacucho while so many crimes were being committed during the period of terrorism, then he should shut up in Lima. His opinion is personal and does not represent the Church.”

Cipriani said Saturday in his homily on the day of Santa Rosa, the first Catholic saint of the Americas and patron of Peru’s National Police, that “human rights are too important for us to leave them in the hands of a small ideological group.”

We should treat the Armed Forces and police “with respect, gratitude and without ideology or hate,” Cipriani said in his homily, because lately “it has become fashionable” to attack them.

“This is surprising,” Bambarén said, noting the Cardinal had never defended human rights before and had now changed his discourse. “What was his role in Ayacucho and what is it now? Several bishops are very upset.”

The Cardinal, although also Archbishop of Lima, is not the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Peru. This position is held by a bishop elected for a three-year term by the Episcopal Conference of Bishops and is currently held by Monsignor Hector Cabrejos, Bishop of Metropolitan Trujillo.

Bambarén, a popular bishop and well-regarded social activist, has openly criticized Cipriani’s closed stand on social and human rights issues for many years. He was an observer on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during his term as president of Peru’s Episcopal Conference.

The Cardinal’s statements came on the heels of a litany of complaints from Peruvian military and political leaders who continued last week to reject the conclusions of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, five years after the Commission published its final report on two decades of political violence that left nearly 70,000 people dead. The commemorative ceremony of the Commission was marred by protests.

The Commission’s nine-volume, 5,000-page final report was presented after collecting 17,000 private and public testimonies, and holding 14 public hearings. The report determined that 54 per cent of all deaths in the country’s internal conflict were caused by the Maoist Shining Path insurgency. Peru’s armed forces were blamed for 30 per cent, and most of the remaining deaths by government-backed peasant militias.

Eighty-five percent of the victims of Peru’s internal conflict were poor, Quechua-speaking Indians from the Ayacucho region — where Cipriani was bishop from 1988 and then archbishop from 1995 — and five other departments in Peru’s Andean highlands.

Cardinal Cipriani, 64, who was openly against even forming the Commission, has consistently criticized human rights groups in his sermons and his weekly radio program. During the height of the terrorism years while he was Bishop of Ayacucho, he also is known to have said that the human rights coordinator was “a stupidity” and those who defended it were “useful fools.” A blackboard outside the Archbishopric in Ayacucho stated plainly “No human rights claims accepted.”

Cipriani, who is a member of Opus Dei since 1977, defended the military’s actions in 1988 after troops, in an apparent act of revenge for a Shining path ambush of a military patrol, killed 34 peasants in Cayara and the nearby communities of Cceshua and Mayupampa.

“In a situation of violence like the one in Ayacucho, deaths, disappearances and abuses are part of the war,” Cipriani said in 1994 in an interview with news magazine Caretas. “Defenders of human rights will call it a dirty war. I believe the armed forces had to use mechanisms to find out how and where these things happened.”

Cipriani should “ask Peru for forgiveness” for turning his back on Ayacucho, argued the National Coordinator of Human Right’s Executive Secretary, Ronald Gamarra. “Cipriani isn’t interested in human rights and his declarations and intransigent position are only a reflection of what he has always believed.”

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