Geopolitics

Pope's Support For LGBT Partnerships Has Roots In Argentina

Pope Francis, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has had a longstanding tolerance of and friendship for homosexuals, and yet rejection of marriage as anything other than a heterosexual institution.

Pope Francis in Rome on Oct. 20
Sergio Rubin

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — The Pope's recent declarations favoring gay partnership may have astounded the world outside the Church, but not inside. The surprise may instead come from Pope Francis" decision to adopt a public stance that directly opposes the ideals of most conservative Catholics. Seven years after his accession to the papal throne, the man we Argentines know as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has indeed taken yet another step on his long-standing journey to open the Church to the secular world.

Strictly speaking, Bergoglio has always been in favor of the "civil union" of homosexuals. Yet while he may have spoken of it in the privacy of clerical circles, he has never made a declaration as Supreme Pontiff. He is deft at timing of course, like a politician — so why make the announcement now, and what reactions would this prompt among traditionalists?

The position Bergoglio took in his own country on the Argentine Law for Egalitarian Wedding is telling. When parliament was close to debating its bill, Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires at the time, addressed around a hundred bishops and urged them to be realistic. He cautioned that an outright opposition could produce a considerable setback for the Church.

He believes there is a reality that must be taken into account.

Bergoglio then proposed a middle way between rejecting and accepting the bill: civil union. It was not just a political ploy, but a real conviction that gay couples were a reality and therefore should have the right to access benefits like social services and inheritance, which civil partnership specifically recognizes. He failed to convince his peers, and it became the only one of the archbishop's proposals that was voted down.

It is true that, at the time, Bergoglio wrote a letter to a group of nuns harshly criticizing egalitarian marriage, but this should be seen as a bid to appease the most conservative sector of the Church and above all, the Vatican. It was also meant to counter pressures from those who wanted him out of his position.

Bergoglio has never spoken in favor of marriage for homosexuals, with good reason: He respects the Catholic doctrine that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman, and open to procreation. But he believes there is a reality that must be taken into account.

Why make the announcement now? — Photo: Evandro Inetti/ZUMA

In his first months as pope, at a press conference held aboard a plane returning from Brazil, Francis took attendees aback with an unexpected statement: "Who am I to judge a gay person honestly searching for God?" It sounded like a paradigm shift in a Church many see as homophobic.

Bergoglio has, in fact long, spiritually accompanied a good many gay people. Even as pope, he received same-sex couples. Recently, he met with the parents of gay men and advised them to accept and accompany this reality.

Is the Church's unity at risk?

Still, the initial question remains: Why did he make his recent declarations now? Is it a signal to progressive church members pressuring for optional celibacy for priests and female ordination? Is it a way of saying his reformist agenda is not yet exhausted, as some believe?

Perhaps the most relevant question is, how will the most conservative sectors react? Is the Church's unity at risk? To be sure, those who already dislike the pope will now like him even less, and double their efforts to influence the next conclave, to obtain a pope more to their liking.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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