BUENOS AIRES, April 28 -- A Roman Catholic bishop in Argentina on Friday asked forgiveness 'from God and from society' for the clergy's failure to act during the repression of the 1976-1983 military regime. Monsignor Jorge Novak, the bishop of Quilmes in Buenos Aires province, said he was speaking on behalf of the church, which has been criticized for its passive role during the military government's so- called 'dirty war' against its opponents.
'We ask forgiveness from God and from society...for our insensitiveness, for our cowardice, for our omissions and for our complicity,' Novak said in a statement released Friday. 'Without a doubt, the burden of the missing is a heavy one for our ecclesiastic conscience,' Novak said, adding that bishops, priests and religious workers were among those who went missing during those years. Novak's statement followed a public address by the commander of the Argentine army, Lt. Gen. Martin Balza, who earlier this week admitted the army's role in the arrests and killings of thousands of people during the repression. In recent months, Argentine bishops have denied that the church remained silent about human rights abuses during the dirty war, but many acknowledged that the clergy could have done much more. In March, the permanent commission of the Argentine Espiscopate denied charges that members of the military government had consulted the church hierarchy on more humane ways of eliminating opponents. According to official figures, 9,000 people were killed by the military in its fight against Montonero rebels and insurgents of the People's Revolution Army, although independent rights groups estimate the number closer to 30,000.