BUENOS AIRES — Something seems amiss between Argentina's new president, Mauricio Macri, and the Argentine-born Pope Francis. All the world's diplomatic corps have extended their congratulations to Macri — all but the Vatican's. So many have offered comments on the first steps in government, but not Jorge Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires who has made informality and cordiality his personal style. Not a word yet from the pontiff about Macri.
The reason given so far has been so formalistic as to beggar belief: The Vatican says the pontiff does not call to greet a recently elected president. Francis is many things, but one thing he is not is wedded to protocol. He calls people and sends e-mails left, right and center. Inevitably, his silence with Macri is provoking murmurings through the Argentine halls of power that are difficult to silence.
OK with Cristina K
The pope had several contacts with the last president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and was particularly considerate with her. He met with her when she was campaigning and even asked people (us?) to be kinder to her. This was in spite of the fact that when Bergoglio was archbishop, the former president refused to receive him 14 times and did not attend any of the annual Te Deum masses at the cathedral. The Kirchner couple, Néstor and Cristina, liked to call the then Primate of Argentina a conspirator, and accused him of having handed over two Jesuit priests to authorities under the military junta in the 1970s.
Cristina Kirchner and Pope Francis on June 7 — Photo: Prensa Internacional/ZUMA
Yet Francis speaks to so many Kirchner partisans from the Peronist political family, including the just defeated presidential candidate Daniel Scioli — but not to Macri. Even when he disagreed with government appointments, he spoke to Kirchner about it. He was just photographed alongside Mario Moreno, the outgoing trade attaché at the Argentine embassy in Rome.
It is difficult to explain what's going on with Macri. Church officials reportedly said that Macri must take the first step. Official silence has a whiff of the Kirchners about it, whether it is Macri or the pope keeping silent. What are they waiting for? Is it a matter of pride?
This inevitably sends all looking for some kind of incident or run-in in the past, between them or their aides. And indeed, one showdown surfaces right away: On the eve of the second round of the presidential elections, Macri's adviser Jaime Durán Barba said Francis could not "win 10 votes." It was out of place, and reminiscent of Stalin's sarcastic observation when he asked, "the pope, and how many divisions does he have?"
Whether it is this or some other lingering resentment, time has come for the two leaders to break the ice — especially given the urgent socio-economic challenges that Argentina faces.