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Brazil’s Truth Commission to investigate church

SAO PAULO — The Truth Commission investigating human rights abuses committed by Brazil’s former dictatorship will also look into the role Catholic and evangelical churches played during the 1964-1985 military government.

Established last year by President Dilma Rousseff, the commission will investigate whether pro-dictatorship clergy committed human rights abuses, or supported members of the military responsible for such abuses.

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Rousseff herself is a former leftist guerrilla who was imprisoned for more than three years and tortured during the dictatorship. She signed the law establishing the commission, which was given two years to conclude its investigation into the torture, murder, and forced disappearances of people opposed to the dictatorship.

Brazil has never punished military officials who committed human rights abuses. A recent study by the Brazilian government concluded last year that 475 people were killed or ‘‘disappeared’’ by agents of the military regime.

‘‘The activities of the clergy who opposed the dictatorship as well as the actions of religious groups that backed the regime will be analyzed,’’ said commission member Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who will head the investigation.

The church saw the coup d’etat as a strike against communism, said Fernando Altemeyer, a theologian at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo. But the church decided it could no longer support the military government when it saw that the regime was imprisoning and torturing real and feared opponents, Altemeyer said.

Advocates say that investigating who was involved in the abuses is essential if Brazil is to move forward.

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