Growing Argentina-Francis divide
Milei’s election highlights the Argentina-Francis divide. A 2019 national poll on religious beliefs showed the lack of fervor for Francis, when only 27% described him as a global leader who denounces injustices. Some 40% said they were indifferent to the pontiff, according to the survey conducted by the CONICET institute.
Like in other parts of the world, political populism and Christianity have made for a strange connection. Over 90% of Argentina is Catholic, although less than 20% practice their faith regularly. Nonetheless, Argentine society, culture and its politics are deeply imbued with Roman Catholicism.
In December 2020, Argentina’s abortion law was liberalized after the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Bill was passed by the National Congress. Evangelicals, a growing segment of believers in South America, had teamed up with Catholics to combat the bill — much like they have in the United States — but the pope was not involved in those very public debates.
Francis being averse to Argentine politics is understandable. In May 2020, the pope said that when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires more than a decade ago, the Argentine government wanted “to cut (his) head off” by backing false accusations that he had collaborated with the military dictatorship in the 1970s.
“The situation was really very confused and uncertain,” Francis added.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, had not yet publicly congratulated Milei. The Vatican’s own news organizations, Vatican News and l’Osservatore Romano had yet to publish any news about it on Monday. The pope has said he plans to travel to Argentina on an official visit next year.
Milei’s running mate, Victoria Villarruel, 48, is a traditional Catholic who, like the new president, is opposed to abortion.
But it’s the economy that helped Milei’s ticket win and his right-wing Together for Change coalition rise to power. Following October’s first-round vote, Milei struck an uneasy alliance with conservatives. He now faces a fragmented Congress, with no single party or bloc having a majority, meaning he will need to get backing from other factions to push through legislation.
“The model of decadence has come to an end, there’s no going back,” said Milei, who was particularly popular among young voters. “We have monumental problems ahead: inflation, lack of work, and poverty,” he said. “The situation is critical and there is no place for tepid half-measures.”