22 November 2023, The Tablet

Pope congratulates Argentina’s president-elect despite insults

Javier Milei’s office said he and Francis had discussed the prospects of a papal visit “very soon”.

Pope congratulates Argentina’s president-elect despite insults

Javier Miles speaking after his victory in the presidential election on 19 November, alongside his vice-president-elect Victoria Villarruel.
Imago / Alamy

Argentina’s President-elect Javier Milei spoke to Pope Francis by telephone on Tuesday afternoon, less than 48 hours after his election victory.

After reports of the call circulated yesterday in Argentina, the Vatican confirmed that it had taken place but did not disclose any details of the conversation.

Milei’s office later issued a statement saying: “We are pleased to announced that His Holiness, Pope Francis, spoke with our future president to congratulate him and to express wishes for the unity and progress of our country.”

It also said the Pope had promised to send Milei a rosary as a gift and to visit Argentina “very soon”.

Francis has not returned to his home country since he left for the 2013 conclave.  He has recently mooted a visit in January 2024, but commentators suggested that this would depend on the result of this month’s election – although the Pope was said to have denied this.

Before standing for the presidency on an ultra-right-wing ticket, Milei had a career as a television pundit during which he had called Francis an “imbecile who defends social justice”, a “son-of-a-bitch preaching communism” and “the representative of the evil one on earth”.

He insisted, however, that he had apologised for his comments during the campaign.  Ahead of the second round of voting against the Peronist Sergio Massa (who had publicly invited the Pope to Argentina), Milei said: “If I have to ask for his forgiveness, I’ll do it. I even invite him to come to Argentina. We will receive him with all honours.”

On 7 November, the Argentine bishops sent Francis a message from their autumn plenary meeting “to express our desire that you visit us soon”.

“As such, we unite with the sentiment of our people who wish to meet their shepherd,” they said.

Milei’s self-described “anarcho-capitalist” policies, including massive cuts to state expenditure, have alarmed clergy who work with the country’s poor.  However, he has garnered support from pro-life Catholics for his plans for a referendum on the 2020 law that legalised abortion in Argentina.

Ahead of the election his vice-presidential candidate Victoria Villarruel said that she and Milei were both “pro-life”.  Villarruel is believed to have links with the Lefebvrist Society of St Pius X, which rejects the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

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