Catholics' Hopes Fade For Papal Visit To Argentina
Pope Francis' close ally, Bp. Victor Manuel Fernandez, says the pontiff will not go where he is not welcome.
Hopes for a visit to Argentina by Pope Francis were dimmed following a series of insults and insinuations hurled by leading presidential candidate Javier Milei, prompting a strong response in a far-ranging interview with a leading prelate at the Vatican.
In an interview with American interlocutor Tucker Carlson, formerly of Fox News, Milei said of Pope Francis, "The Pope plays politically, he has strong political interference, he has shown great affinity with dictators like Castro and Maduro, he is on the side of bloody dictatorships." In the Twitter interview, when Carlson asked if Cuban ex-president Raúl Castro is a murderer, Milei answered yes, and added: "And Fidel Castro was also another murderer."
Milei, a baptized Catholic, said on September 15 the pontiff has "an affinity for murderous communists." Not stopping there, Milei said, "In fact, he does not condemn them, he is quite deferent to them, and also to the Venezuelan dictatorship. He obliges everybody on the left, even when they are true criminals, which is a problem." In previous interviews, Milei has called the pope an "imbecile."
Milei also took the pope to task for his long-stated concern for the poor, saying, “He is someone who believes social justice is the central focus of his vision, and that is a problem.” Milei defined pope’s vision for the poor as “robbing the fruit of someone’s labor and giving it to someone else.” Finally, the libertarian economist said of the pontiff, “He is a representative of evil on earth, sitting on the throne in the house of God.”
Pope Francis has not visited his native country so far during his pontificate. However, he has indicated through intermediaries that he will visit in 2024 no matter who wins the October 22 presidential election. In an interview with Argentine daily La Nación, the pope said, “Argentina continues waiting. I want to go. I expect to go, I hope so. Don’t give up hope.”
Milei is an economist and rock singer who leads the Liberty Advances party. He faces Sergio Massa of the Renewal Front, which brings together a number of parties of the Peronist movement founded by Juan Peron in the 1940s, while Patricia Bullrich leads the Republican Proposal party, having served in a previous government as Minister of Security. Milei and his platform of radical reform of government, opposition to abortion, and libertarian orthodoxy has him leading the opinion polls in a country facing astronomical inflation and widening socio-economic divisions.
In an interview with Religión Digital, a Spanish media outlet, Argentine Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez responded to Milei’s denunciations, saying, "Surely the Pope will not go to a place where he is not invited, where his visit can be used or complicated for political convenience or where the authorities despise his presence." Fernández was named prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Counted as the pope’s close friend, Fernández is a candidate to the cardinalate.
The pope himself apparently referred to Milei, albeit elliptically. In an interview with the C5N news channel when speaking of "a new politician, who spoke beautifully, who seduced people" and who "was called Adolfo." “They all voted for Adolfito, and that’s where we wound up,” in a reference to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. “I fear the saviors who come out of nowhere. When a savior without a history emerges, be suspicious,” he added.
Bishop Oscar Ojea, who leads the Catholic Bishops Conference of Argentina condemned Milei’s rhetoric and the insults launched at the pope. “One of the candidates has expressed unrepeatable insults and falsehoods. As Monsignor Gustavo Carrara has said, the pope for us is a prophet of human dignity at a time of violence and exclusion. But, on the other hand, he is also a head of state to which special respect is due,” he said in a statement.
“It is impossible to build up a country by insults, screaming and insults, without dialogue,” Ojea said. “We ask ourselves how it will be possible to govern a divided country. We affirm that in a violent climate, the candidates’ statements do not help societal peace,” he said. Giving assurances that the bishops do not favor any political party, Ojea said the bishops do advocate for principles that “can be useful for reflecting on the future of a people who we love and serve.”
Martin Barillas is a retired diplomat. He is author of 'Shaken Earth', which is available at Amazon.