As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not always on friendly terms with Argentina’s political leaders. On one famous occasion in 2004, he preached a sermon denouncing “dishonest and mediocre” politics with President Néstor Kirchner sitting in the congregation.
Presidents come and go, but even after his elevation to the papacy Francis has not shied away from conflict with Argentina’s rulers. That is one subtext to the Pope’s visit to Chile next week: the absence of Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri. The difficult relationship between the two leaders is well-documented, and serves as another example of Pope Francis’s place in the politics of his homeland: as an internal critic, usually at cross-purposes with the ruling party.
It is not just hostility but awkwardness which characterises the Pope’s relationship with Macri. For instance, in 2016 the president donated 16,666,000 pesos (£853,000) to the Pope’s educational foundation, Scholas Occurentes. Francis rejected it: “I don’t like the 666,” he wrote back, according to Vatican Insider.
There was another reason: Francis told Scholas Occurentes that they shouldn’t be accepting money from the Argentine government when the population had so many pressing needs. Macri’s own background may have increased the Pope’s sense that this money was being used irresponsibly: the president is the son of a millionaire, and he still spends his leisure time at exclusive parties of the wealthy.
He is also something of a showman: he likes to perform as Freddie Mercury, leading to a near-death experience at his second wedding in 2010, when he swallowed his fake moustache and was only saved form choking by the intervention of the Buenos Aires health minister.
There is a ready-made leftist critique of Macri as a president for the rich. Macri has “a neo-liberal, pro-business approach,” says an Argentine observer. “He has encouraged businesses to invest in Argentina.”
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