Bergoglio And Kirchners: Pope Francis Clashed With Argentina's Presidents

The new Pope and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner have faced off over gay marriage. But tensions date back to the presidency of her deceased husband President Nestor Kirchner.

Kirchner and Bergoglio in 2007
Kirchner and Bergoglio in 2007

BUENOS AIRES - The news that the new Pope was an Argentine, the first Latin American and the first Jesuit pope, has moved many hearts both in Buenos Aires, and around the world.

But Jorge Bergoglio, the newly anointed Pope Francis, who's long been the leading figure of the Catholic Church in our country, has had a difficult relationship with each of the President Kirchners, both Nestor and Cristina.

Moreover, there are many ways that the new Pope’s relationship with Cristina Kirchner seems destined to remain complicated. In her first words about Bergoglio’s appointment, the current Argentine President wished Francis luck, but also expressed her hopes that he would do significant work for the region and “take a message to the major world powers that they need to participate in dialogue.”

Among other things, she appeared to be referring directly to her hope that this new Pope will be able to intervene with the British to open dialogue regarding the Falkland Islands, where a referendum earlier this week overwhelmingly supported remaining part of the United Kingdom.

The relationship between Bergoglio and Nestor Kirchner, the current president’s deceased husband, was much more distant and conflict-ridden than the relationship with Cristina Kirchner. The former president called the Cardinal “The true representative of the opposition.”

Bergoglio, in turn, openly complained about the Kirchners’ accusations. In January, 2007, Clarin published an article titled, “Kirchner And Bergoglio, Separated By The Basics.” That article outline how even the head of the Catholic Church in Argentina had been unable to arrange an official visit with the head of the country’s government.

“Kirchner feels like the majority of the bishops, with Bergoglio as their leader, are a major factor in the criticism of his leadership. The Casa Rosada (the Argentina Presidential residence) often complains that the Church never recognizes all that he has done to bring the country out of one of the worst crises of its history,” the journalist, Sergio Rubin, wrote in 2007.

Gay marriage feud

However, when Nestor Kirchner died in 2010, Bergoglio reacted quickly and offered to officiate a mass in his honor in a matter of hours. He held the mass at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. “The people should let go of any antagonism they have when faced with the death of the man who was anointed by the people to lead the country, and the whole country should pray for him,” Bergoglio said during the mass in Kirchner’s honor.

In the moment of mourning, he also called on all the citizens of Argentina to express their magnanimity. “It would be a sign of ingratitude if this nation's people did not come together in prayer for this man who took up, with his heart and soul, the task of uniting the people who had asked him to lead them,” Bergoglio added.

With Cristina, who was elected president in 2007, the most tense moment came in 2010, when she signed a law allowing same-sex marriages. Bergoglio was one of the most visible and vocal figures opposing gay marriage, launching himself passionately into an ultimately futile fight against the measure.

“What worries me is the tone that the discourse has taken on," Cristina Kirchner said about Bergoglio's stance. "This is being discussed as if it were a question of religious morality and an attack on natural order, when in reality all that is being done is to look at the reality that already exists.”

In one of his more recent critiques of Argentine society, Bergoglio had warned against getting used to “hearing and seeing graphic crime reports through the media.” He also came out against “the destruction of dignified work.”

But Bergoglio has also more recently praised the conciliatory tone that Kirchner often uses in her speeches -- and from a national perspective, he always supports the same message: unity among Argentines. It is a message, no doubt, he will now look to spread on a global level.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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