ROME – The Vatican once dismissed reports of massacres by Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet as “communist propaganda,” according to declassified U.S. diplomatic documents from the 1970s released Monday.
One cable dated Oct. 18, 1973, sent to Washington by the U.S. 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-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, which was published by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. The pope at the time was Paul VI.
“Benelli labeled 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.” 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 Pinochet took power in a coup that overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende, as thousands of perceived leftist sympathizers were being imprisoned and killed. The cables also showed the Vatican later realized the full extent of the abuses being carried out but continued with normal diplomatic relations.