Argentina: The Pope is Less and Less Popular

March 23, 2023

10 years after the election of Pope Francis, the initial fervor of his native Argentina has faded to give way to a certain indifference. The fact that the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires has never set foot in his country of origin since his elevation is not a small reason for this disaffection.

When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church on March 13, 2013, the news in Argentina sounded like a victory for Albliceleste in the World Cup final. 10 years later, opinions are much more divided.

“It is clear that a number of people are angry with him,” says journalist Sergio Rubin, co-author, with Francesca Ambrogetti, of El Pastor, a book of interviews with Pope Francis published on the eve of the tenth anniversary of his accession to the sovereign pontificate.

This anger can be explained, according to the journalist, by the fact that the Argentinian pope never put Argentina on the program of his numerous apostolic journeys: “The reason for political division plays a 90% role in Francis's choice not to not go to his country,” says Sergio Rubin, interviewed in Clarin.

For the co-author of El Pastor, the Secretariat of State warned the Pope “not to set foot in his country, because everything he would do or say there would be a cause of conflict.”

And for good reason. The successor of Benedict XVI found himself on several occasions at the center of the political controversies which regularly oppose the supporters of center-left Peronism, embodied by the current state leader Alberto Fernandez, and those of the former center-right president Mauricio Macri.

Thus, in 2016, a photograph went viral in the country: in it ones sees a Pope Francis, his gaze closed and empty, during Mauricio Macri's state visit to the Vatican. The sign, for many, of a pontifical disapproval of the policy of the former Argentine president, which resulted in a negative impact on the image of the Pope with his fellow citizens.

It must be said that on the Argentine political terrain, the variations of the Roman Pontiff sound like the famous aria of the Duke of Mantua, in the last act of Rigoletto “La Donna è mobile...” [the woman is fickle]. Close indeed to the Peronist currently embodied by President Alberto Fernandez , Francis suddenly distanced himself in 2020, when the head of state managed to pass the law legalizing abortion.

Recently, Miguel Angel Pichetto, a former center-right senator, lambasted the pope's “absurd social views” which he said advocated “schemes that make merit irrelevant and make it seem like property is only a secondary right.” Further to the right of the political spectrum, the opponent Javier Milei did not hesitate to affirm that Francis is “always on the side of evil.”

Opinion polls also highlight the lack of love of Argentines for their Pope: the CONICET institute published, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the current pontificate, a poll according to which only 27% of Argentines still see in Francis a “world leader,” while 40% of respondents are now indifferent to him.

It is a trend that sums up Maria de los Angeles Lopez in its own way. In 2013, this practicing Catholic believed that an Argentinian pope would have a positive impact on the country, but the rude awakening is difficult, ten years later: “There is more poverty, more crime, and the division is worse than ever. I thought that the pope could help us to reconcile the citizens with each other, but on the contrary, he exacerbated the divisions.”