Argentina Presses Pope Over Falklands Dispute

Monday, 16 Jun 2014 07:03 AM

By Edward Pentin

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Vatican officials are becoming increasingly irritated with the Argentine government after its ambassador to Britain — a vocal critic of the U.K.’s sovereignty over the Falkland Islands — sought a private audience with the pontiff.

Ambassador Alicia Castro was scheduled to meet the Pope on Monday of last week, but the audience was canceled at the last minute due to Francis having a “mild indisposition.” The Pope took off most of Monday and all of Tuesday last week to rest.

It is highly unusual for an ambassador accredited to another nation to have such an audience with a Pope.

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

The Vatican won’t comment on the nature of Castro’s visit, but sources said the audience was most likely part of an overall Argentine strategy to use the Pope’s nationality, and his willingness to see a wide range of his compatriots, including those Popes don’t normally see, to try to keep up pressure on the Falklands issue.

Argentina has long disputed Britain’s sovereignty over the South Atlantic islands and tried to take the territory by force in 1982. Since coming to power in 2007, the government of President Cristina Kirchner has reasserted the country’s claims to the islands, accusing Britain of maintaining "colonial enclaves."

The British government is unconcerned by the latest possible attempt to manipulate the Pope. “The Vatican has been clear with us at a very senior level, including quite recently, that their long-standing position of neutrality on the Falklands remains in force, whatever Argentinean efforts to misrepresent the established position of the Holy See on this issue,” Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, told me.

Castro, appointed ambassador to Britain to help with Kirchner’s diplomatic offensive, has been a key figure in pushing Argentina’s territorial claim. She publicly ambushed Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague over the matter in 2012, asking at a London meeting on human rights if there was a chance for dialogue.

The Falkland Islands, called the Malvinas in Argentina, is said to be one of two populist issues that unite almost all Argentines, the other being soccer. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio joined his fellow Argentines in calling Britain “usurpers” of the islands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron simply said Francis was wrong on the issue and referred to a referendum that had just unanimously voted in favor of retaining British sovereignty. “The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear,” Cameron said, a comment Castro criticized as “dumb” and which betrayed a “foolish” attitude on the part of the prime minister.

Although Francis will probably continue to see a wide range of his compatriots in the future, like previous Popes he will continue to take the Holy See’s neutral line on such sensitive political issues.

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

He did, however, speak highly of Margaret Thatcher, who ordered British troops to retake the territory in 1982. In a message of condolence on her death last year, he recalled “with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations.

"Entrusting her soul to the mercy of God, and assuring her family and the British people of a remembrance in his prayers, the Holy Father invokes upon all whose lives she touched, God's abundant blessings,” he said.

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.


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