Pope Francis’ Star Is Swiftly Falling Back In His Homeland

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

While flying back to the Vatican after a visit to Armenia, Pope Francis declared that Christians should apologize to LGBTs and others who’ve been “offended” or “exploited” by the church. It’s the type of radical thinking that has helped Francis — the first non-European pontiff in more than 1,200 years — achieve a level of celebrity nearly unprecedented in the history of Catholicism.

But now it seems Francis’ star is swiftly falling where it perhaps matters most — his homeland, Argentina. Indeed, a recent local poll revealed that Francis — the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires — has tumbled from the first to the ninth most “trustworthy Argentine” in just two years.

True, the pope still outranks Argentina’s pro-US/market-friendly new president, Mauricio Macri. And, yes, a recent international Gallup poll found the pope more popular than any other world leader. But despite the accolades, the pope’s own people actually view him as less honest than a host of Argentine national icons.

The data marks a stark volte-face for Francis. And while the pope’s leftist, humanist, populist views may delight progressives abroad, back in Argentina they’re coming under fire for increasingly influencing policy.

The pope’s most serious problems stem from his relationships with President Macri and his predecessor — the anti-Western/pro-Iran Peronist, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose party was elected out of office last year. Francis enjoyed warm relations with Kirchner, who visited him at the Vatican some half-dozen times — often treated to long lunches hosted in Francis’ private residence. It was the type of hospitality provided to other similarly leftist leaders, like Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Macri, however, has met with Francis just once — a brief, chilly February get-together in the Vatican library culminating with a frowning Francis glumly posing for the press with the president and his wife. There was no warmth, little laughter and — most crucially — no promise of an official visit by Francis to the nation of his birth.

The optics may have been a disaster, but their meaning was clear: Macri might be loved by international counterparts like President Obama — who visited him in Argentina in March — but Pope Francis will not be joining his growing chorus of global cheerleaders.

Since the winter, the pope has only become frostier toward Macri — while continuing to court Kirchner and her surrogates. In May, he received activist Hebe de Bonafini, a fierce Macri critic who once applauded the 9/11 attacks. And this month, the pope-affiliated charity Scholas Occurrentes declined a $1.2 million grant from the Macri government.

The pope said the gift could be viewed as corruption. But many Argentine politicians and intellectuals saw the move as yet another public swipe at the new president. Indeed, despite Francis’ mandate for political neutrality, leading local newspaper columnist Jorge Fernandez Diaz suggested that anti-Macri forces are quietly hoping the pope will emerge as Argentina’s “opposition leader.”

Considering Kirchner basically bankrupted her country, the pope’s support for her is curious at best — and destructive at worst.

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SOURCE: New York Post
David Kaufman