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Vatican City (AFP) - The Vatican said Wednesday it is well on the way to opening its archives on Argentina's "Dirty War", which could bring new evidence to light on the fate of missing victims.
Cataloguing the records "could be completed in the coming months, after which the times and conditions for their consultation will be studied," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
The announcement came on the eve of the 40th anniversary of a coup on March 24, 1976, which installed the military dictatorship that would hold sway until 1983 and kill an estimated 30,000 people.
The archives contain reports by the Vatican's ambassadors to Buenos Aires on the stances taken by Argentine bishops in the "dirty war", as well as political and legal documents and references to the disappeared.
The country's bishops were divided, with many supporting the military over the socialist opposition.
Defenders of Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, insist he was among those Catholic clergy who quietly resisted the brutal regime, which tortured and killed scores of priests, nuns and others.
Critics insist Bergoglio failed to speak out on bishops and top church officials who turned a blind eye to the abuses or openly sided with the military dictatorship.
Two Catholic priests and a layman murdered during the regime in 1976 are being considered for sainthood under a process launched by Bergoglio when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
- Disappeared model -
But other priests have been implicated in the regime's crimes, including former Buenos Aires police chaplain Christian Von Wernich, sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for six killings, 31 cases of torture and 42 abductions.
The famous Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo organization, founded in 1977 to help locate children kidnapped during the military era, have accused Bergoglio of failing to do enough -- then or now.
At the general audience in Saint Peter's Square on Wednesday, the pontiff met with mothers of disappeared people and kissed Francoise Tisseau, the mother of French victim Marie Anne Erize Tisseau, who disappeared in 1976.
"This kiss is for all the mothers who have suffered the disappearance of their children," she told Francis.
Tisseau's sister Marie Noelle told AFP: "it was a very emotional moment, we all cried".
The delegation of 10 people, including Tisseau's family, are in Rome to speak with a prosecutor who is looking into the possibility of bringing charges against an Argentine-Italian ex-military, Carlos Malatto.
Malatto, who moved to Italy in 2011, has been accused of being behind the disappearance and death of several people between 1975 and 1977, including Tisseau, a Franco-Argentinian model who had helped compatriots flee to France during the regime.
The "dirty war" was just one of several military dictatorships across Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s which collaborated in tracking down leftist opponents in a scheme known as Operation Condor.