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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.

Article illustrative image Partner logo 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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