The bishops of Colombia, together with other leaders and government officials, have strongly rejected claims that Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino of Cali, who was killed in 2002, was a consulter to the rebel group United Self-Defenses of Colombia.
The bishops rejected the accusations of former paramilitary leader Diego Murillo, who attacked the late archbishop during a trial this week in Medellin.
Murillo claimed that Archbishop Duarte was part of the “group of seven,” a committee made up of “influential leaders” that the rebel group consulted with before making “important decisions.”
Msgr. Fabian Marulanda, secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, told Colombian radio, “The name of somebody as respected as Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino cannot be tainted.” He noted that the late archbishop was highly critical of rebel groups and drug traffickers.
Father Jorge Cadavid, who was a close adviser to Archbishop Duarte, said the archbishop did meet with the leader of the United Self-defenses, Carlos Castano, and with then Minister of the Interior, Horacio Serpa, and Sergio Fajardo, the current Mayor of Medellin, but that the meeting could not be construed as a gesture of support by the archbishop.
Archbishop Duarte’s sole purpose in talking with members of the paramilitary was “to try to foster peace through dialogue,” Father Cadavid said.
The current Archbishop of Cali, Juan Francisco Sarasti, said he while he was not in Cali at the time of that meeting, he was confident that Father Cadavid correctly explained its significance. “I believe he is telling the truth. I know the archbishop very well and I know he was concerned about peace,” he said.
Mayor Fajardo, who was present at the meeting with Archbishop Duarte, said the late archbishop “was always the loudest voice calling for peace. He wept with pain at the sight of what he had to endure. He was an extraordinary man who was always committed.”