Military concordat (1957) and update (1992)
This concordat established a military chaplaincy which helped to consolidate Church influence in the military government after the 1955 coup. It also entrenched the junta by helping to create a closed confessional loop. Military chaplains were given jurisdiction over everyone connected with the military, which really meant everyone likely to have reliable information about the military policy of abduction, torture and murder during the 1976–1983 “Dirty War”. This removed the danger of military personnel confessing their sins to outside priests.
Only two years after the coup by the military junta, its second, more hardline leader General Pedro Eugene Aramburu concluded a concordat with the Vatican. Not an agreement about the role of the Church in society at large — that had to wait another nine years — but about its place in the military. This 1957 concordat set up the Argentine military vicariate whose chaplains ministered to everyone in the military and its dependents, not even accepting the possibility of non-Catholics.
A further aspect of Article 10 is that it sets up a closed system, giving military personnel no authorised access to any but the military chaplains. These are responsible for everyone employed by any branch of the military or its hospitals and for their family and servants living with them on military bases. In other words, anyone likely to have heard anything troubling is kept away from the other clergy and is expected to confess only to a military chaplain. This provided very favourable conditions for concealing the crimes committed by the military in Argentina's Dirty War. (See The chaplains and the “death flights” .)
Later, in 1990, under President Carlos Menem who had pardoned convicted junta leaders members, the concordat was updated. The revised agreement promoted it from a vicariate to a regular diocese. It also quietly changed the now embarrassing jurisdiction of the Catholic chaplaincy over all military personnel, regardless of religious affiliation. It did this in a roundabout way, not explicitly changing this in the text of the concordat itself, but doing it in a roundabout way by saying that the concordat is now based in the 1986 Vatican rules for military chaplaincies, Spirituali Militum Curae. Article 10.1 of the new set of ground rules says that the jurisdiction of Catholic military chaplaincies extends over “all the faithful” (todos los fieles).
Agreement between the Republic of Argentina and the Holy See on Military Jurisdiction and Pastoral Care to the Armed Forces
[Signed on 28 June 1957,
ratified by the national government on 5 July 1957,
and proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on 8 July 1957]
With a view to providing the best pastoral assistance to the Armed Forces of Land, Sea and Air in a most mutually appropriate and lasting manner and in accordance with the oldest traditions which have inspired them, the Holy See and the Government of Argentina have a mind to conclude an Agreement and to this end they have nominated their Plenipotentiaries as follows:
His Most Holy Pontiff Pius XII, His Most Revered Monsignor Domenico Tardini, Pro-Secretary of State Extraordinary for Church Affairs, and His Excellency the Provisional President of the Nation of Argentina General Pedro Eugene Aramburu, His Excellency Signor Manuel A. Rio, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Argentina to the Holy See.
Having exchanged full powers and found them to be in due form, the above have agreed the following arrangements:
1. The Holy See shall establish in Argentina a Military Vicariate of the Republic of Argentina to provide pastoral care for the armed forces of Land, Sea and Air.
Without prejudice to the arrangements made in this present Agreement, the Military Vicariate of the Republic of Argentina shall be subject to the provisions laid down by canonical decree issued by the Holy Consistory Congregation and to the norms set out in the Directive De Vicariis Castrensibus [On Military Vicariates] (Apostolic Acts of the Holy See, 1951, p. 562).
2. Religious pastoral services shall be carried out under the auspices of the Military Vicar by three Senior Military Chaplains appointed respectively to the Armed Forces of Land, Sea and Air, and by the military chaplains of the said forces.
The Military Vicariate may nominate a Pro-Vicar.
3. The Central Office for Military Pastoral Care shall have its seat in Buenos Aires and shall be set up by the Pro-Vicar, the Senior Military Chaplains and any other personnel deemed necessary by the Military Vicar.
4. The Military Vicar shall be appointed by the Holy See with the prior agreement of the President of the Republic of Argentina.
The Military Vicar shall have the rank of Bishop.
Should the Military Vicariate be vacant, the Assistant Bishop, or in his absence, the most Senior Military Chaplain shall assume the temporary functions of the Vicar General [Assistant Bishop] and the actual duties of the Capitular Vicars.
5. The Senior Military Chaplains, under the supervision of the Military Vicar, shall be responsible for the direction of ecclesiastical personnel to the respective Armed Forces of the Land, Sea and Air.
6. The Military Vicar shall choose his clergy from amongst secular and religious clergy who shall be duly under the authority of Ordinary and Senior clergy: as far as religious clergy are concerned, they shall observe the specific norms set down by the Holy See (Instructions for the Sacred Congregation of Religious Persons, 12 February 1955: Apostolic Acts of the Holy See, 1955, p. 93).
7. The Military Vicar, having obtained prior acceptance of the candidates from the respective Ministry, shall appoint Chaplains to the Armed Forces of Land, Sea and Air and shall grant them their title: the designation for their respective services shall be assigned by the competent Ministries on the recommendation of the [Pro-]Vicar.
8. The Military Vicar shall agree with Diocesan Ordinaries and senior religious personnel to determine amongst them an adequate number of priests, who, without leaving their current offices at the diocesan or institutional level, shall dedicate themselves to assist the Military Chaplains in offering pastoral care to the Armed Forces to which they will be attached.
As far as the armed forces are concerned, such priests and religious persons shall carry out their ministry on the orders of the Military Vicar, from whom they will receive all necessary assistance upon request.
9. Should any Chaplain be subject to disciplinary or criminal proceedings by Military Authorities, this shall be communicated to the Military Vicar with whose agreement he shall be subject to the appropriate sanctions in the most convenient form.
The Military Vicar shall have the right to suspend or remove from office anyone for reasons laid down in Canon Law or Canonical Rights for Military Chaplains, which must be communicated previously to the competent Ministry, [the penalty for] which, in the first instance shall be suspension and in the second case shall be dismissal.
Military Chaplains are otherwise subject to the discipline and supervision of Diocesan Ordinaries ratione loci [Latin, ‘because of the place’, i.e., under their jurisdictions] who, in cases of infringement shall inform the Military Vicariate or, in urgent cases, they shall take the necessary measures within canonical provisions, and shall immediately thereafter inform the Military Vicar.
10. The jurisdiction of the Military Vicar and Chaplains applies to personnel [i.e., it is not geopgraphically-based like a diocese]: this extends to all military personnel of the Armed Forces of Land, Sea and Air while carrying out of their duties, and to their spouses, children, family members and their domestic personnel who live with them in military accommodation, and also to cadets in training institutions and to applicants to institutes for non-commissioned officers, and to all religious and civil personnel who are in permanent residence in military hospitals or in other institutions or in places designated for the military.
11. Military Chaplains shall have the equivalent of parochial jurisdiction over persons indicated in the preceding article. As far as canonical marriage is concerned, the provision of Canon 1097 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law applies, which establishes that, ‘Pro regula habeatur ut matrimonium coram sponsae parocho celebretur, nisi iusta causa excuset’ ; and, in the case of a marriage being celebrated before a Military Chaplain, all canonical prescriptions must be observed, especially Canon 1103 § 1 & 2. 
12. The jurisdiction of the Military Vicar is inclusive with that of Diocesan Ordinaries. However, in military zones the prime and main jurisdiction belongs to the Military Vicar and to Military Chaplains, and, in the second place, to Diocesan and local Parish Ordinaries, as always through their personal right.
13. In peacetime, clerics, seminarians, the religious and novitiates shall be exempt from military service. In times of general mobilisation, priests may offer military service in the form of pastoral care; other clerics and religious people shall be appointed according to the judgement of the Military Vicar to assist chaplains or organisations of the medical corps.
Those also exempt from military service, even in the case of general mobilisation, shall be Ordinaries, parish priests, rectors of churches open to the public, senior religious people and personnel essential for diocesan and seminary administration.
14. It shall be also within the jurisdiction of the Military Vicar to issue instructions to Military Chaplains and to ask of them information which they believe to be appropriate, and to carry out personally or through delegations inspections in situ in accordance with the conditions of military religious pastoral care.
15. The competent Ministries shall agree with the Military Vicar about regulations concerning the respective Military Chaplains as members of the Armed Forces.
16. This Agreement shall be ratified and exchanged as soon as possible.
Made in duplicate original copies in the Vatican City on the 28 June 1957.
1. Can. 1097 §1 Error about a person renders a marriage invalid. §2 Error about a quality of the person, even though it be the reason for the contract, does not render a marriage invalid unless this quality is directly and principally intended.
2. Can. 1103 A marriage is invalid which was entered into by reason of force or of grave fear imposed from outside, even if not purposely, from which the person has no escape other than by choosing marriage.
[Editor’s note: This refers to the Code of Canon Law of 1917, the first one, which is only available online in the Latin original and a French translation.]
Exchange of Diplomatic Notes Constituting an Agreement on Military Jurisdiction and Pastoral Care to the Armed Forces
Ministry of Foreign and Religious Affairs
Buenos Aires, 21 April 1992
Signor Apostolic Nuncio,
I have the honour of addressing your Excellency to offer you, in the name of the Government of Argentina, modifications to the Agreement between the Republic of Argentina and the Holy See on Military Jurisdiction and Pastoral Care to the Armed Forces, signed in the Vatican City on the 28 June 1957 in the light of the principal positions of the Ecumenical Vatican Council II, of the Agreement between the Parties concerning the legal conditions of the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church in the Republic of Argentina concluded in Buenos Aires on the 10 October 1966, of the new Code of Canon Law promulgated on 25 January 1983, and of the Apostolic Constitution Spirituali Militum Curae [Military Pastoral Care], issued on 21 April 1986, and to ensure a most suitable application and interpretation of the same, the following terms are offered accordingly:
1. The Parties re-affirm the full effectiveness of the Agreement between the Republic of Argentina and the Holy See on Military Jurisdiction and Pastoral Care to the Armed Forces, concluded on 28 June 1957 in so far as it is not modified by the following Agreement.
2. The Military Vicariate referred to in the Agreement of 28 June 1957 shall henceforth be known as the ‘Military Episcopate of the Republic of Argentina’, having the status of a bishopric, legally equivalent to a Diocesan one.
3. The Military Episcopate shall be run by a Military Bishop assisted by an Assistant Bishop. Both shall be Argentinean citizens and shall be appointed in the manner provided for as per the Military Vicar in the Agreement of 28 January 1957.
4. In case of absence, the Military Episcopate shall be provisionally run by an Assistant Bishop, or, in his absence, by the person who up to that point has been carrying out the office of Vicar General, or, in the absence of the latter, by the most experienced Senior Chaplain with the actual authority of Diocesan Administrator.
5. The reference made in the Agreement of 25 June 1957 to the Instructions De Vicariis Castrentibus [On Military Vicariates] of 23 April 1951 should have regard to the Apostolic Constitution Spirituali Militum Curae [Military Pastoral Care] of 21 April 1986.
The references to the canons of the Code of Canon Law promulgated on 27 May 1917 should have regard to the equivalent canons of the Code of Canon Law issued on 25 January 1983.
The references made to the Military Vicar and the Assistant Pro-Vicar should read respectively the ‘Military Bishop’ and ‘Assistant Bishop’.
6. The Military Episcopate shall have the same jurisdiction as the Military Vicariate has exercised until now.
Should the Holy See accept this proposed text, this Diplomatic Note and the Note by way of reply from Your Excellency in which he shows his agreement shall constitute an Agreement on the material stated between the Republic of Argentina and the Holy See, which shall come into force on the stipulated date and shall endure indefinitely.
I take this opportunity to assure Signor His Apostolic Nuncio of my greatest esteem.
To His Most Reverend Excellency
His Apostolic Nuncio to His Holiness
Monsignor Ubaldo Calabresi
Apostolic Nunciature, Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, 21 April 1992
I have the honour to address Your Excellency to inform Him of the receipt of his Diplomatic Note dated this same instance, stating the following:
Signor Apostolic Nuncio, ‘I have the honour... my greatest esteem.’
While expressing to Your Excellency the approval of the Holy See in the transcribed text, I take this opportunity of offering you my greatest esteem.
To His Excellency
Doctor Guido Di Tella
Ministry of Foreign and Religious Affairs, Republic of Argentina,
Acuerdo entre la Nación Argentina y la Santa Sede
sobre Jurisdicción Castrense y Asistencia Religiosa de las Fuerzas Armadas.
(signed 28/06/57, ratified 08/07/1957 )
Modificado por Intercambio de Notas: Nota Argentina
Translated by Dr. David Holohan
1. Rubén Dri, “The Theology of Death”, Pagina 12, 28 December 2010. http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-159425-2010-12-28.html Translation at
2. Daniel Schweimler, “‘Dirty War’ trial puts spotlight on Church”, BBC News, 11 October 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/americas/7038860.stm
3. “The Vatican knew what had happened to Argentinean desaparecidos”, Vatican Insider, La Stampa, 9 May 2012. http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/homepage/world-news/detail/articolo/argentina-14979/
A transcript of the confession of Scilingo can be found in Spanish at http://www.elortiba.org/elvuelo.html It is an excerpt from Horacio Verbitsky’s 1995 The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior.
4. Jimmy Burns, “Argentina’s failed crusade”, The Tablet, 6 April 2002. http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/4431
5. “The Vatican knew what had happened to Argentinean desaparecidos”, Vatican Insider, La Stampa, 9 May 2012. http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/homepage/world-news/detail/articolo/argentina-14979/