Argentine Pope Likely to Stay Out of Falklands Sovereignty

Friday, 15 Mar 2013 02:33 PM

By Edward Pentin

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He's only been Pope for two days, but Francis has unwittingly found himself involved in a diplomatic dispute caused by remarks he made last year about the Falkland Islands, the disputed British territory in the South Atlantic.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope is on record for having said that the territory belongs to Argentina.

He made the comments at a Mass in the Argentine capital last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War when Argentina's military junta tried to take the territory by force.

Then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio told worshippers: “We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the homeland who went out to defend their mother, the homeland, and to reclaim what is theirs, that is of the homeland, and it was usurped.”

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Asked about the comments at a press conference at the European Council summit in Brussels on Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Pope should "respect" the islanders' referendum vote earlier this week, in which 99.8 percent said they wanted to remain under British rule. Only three people voted against with two spoiled ballot papers.

"The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear," said Cameron, an Anglican. “I don't agree with him — respectfully, obviously.

“There was a pretty extraordinarily clear referendum in the Falkland Islands. That is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands have chosen very clearly the future they want and that choice should be respected by everyone.”

Britain urged “all countries” to accept the result and respect the islanders’ views. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, however, responded by saying the wishes of the islanders are not relevant.

Kirchner is reported to have already tried to recruit Pope Francis in her efforts to take control of the Falkland Islands and renew international pressure for talks.

Pope Francis' views on the Falklands are to be expected. For most Argentines, the idea that the Falkland Islands — or the "Malvinas" as they call them — belong to them has been ingrained from an early age.

With the exception of the Argentine invasion in 1982, Britain argues it has had continuous administration of the islands since 1833, in accordance with the people's wishes. Argentina maintains it gained the territory from Spain, after independence in 1816, and that the UK illegally occupied them in 1833.

Argentina has been reasserting its claim to the islands since 1945 and the creation of the United Nations.

But the Pope is highly unlikely to intervene in the dispute. Like Benedict XVI, he will try to stay away from engaging directly in the politics of his homeland, including its foreign affairs.

As Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict had made some of his views on foreign policy explicit, such as opposing Turkey's entry into the European Union. But he never reiterated such a controversial view as Pope, and even appeared to change his mind on the issue.

Pope Francis may choose to exert some influence through diplomatic channels, butonly to help further a diplomatic solution. Vatican observers believe any public support will not be forthcoming, especially given the referendum result.

Furthermore, in spite of the Pope's views, Catholics on the Falkland Islands want the new Argentine pontiff to visit the territory, according to a Brazilian newspaper. Parish priest Fr. Michael Bernard McPartland, 73, told the newspaper Folha de São Paulo: "If the Pope goes to Argentina, he should come here too.

"It is wonderful that a Latin American has been chosen," he said. "In a few months it will not matter where he's from. A pope is a pope, he is universal."

During the Falklands war, McPartland negotiated with the Argentinian troops to continue celebrating Mass in English. "The church stayed apart from the conflict, seeking to receive all, as we continue doing today," he said.



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