I truly feel sorry for the new Pope Francis. He is hardly into his reign when he is being immediately confronted by an international crisis that he cannot possibly win either way. I am talking about the Falkland Islands, the archipelago east of Patagonia, Argentina which is claimed by that nation to be their territory, but is actually under British rule.
The rhetoric between Argentina and the UK has been heating up of late. The Argentinian olympic team filmed an ad there and said that “to compete on british soil we practice on argentine soil”. In January Argentine president Christina Kirchner sent an open letter to the UN and British Prime Minister David Cameron calling on the UK to hand the Islands back.
Both Cameron and the Foreign Office flatly rejected those claims, saying that it should be left up to the Islanders. And, they decided. They had the referendum, and only 3 votes were cast that said they should not be British.
What is going to happen, i am afraid, is that the new pope will be caught between his motherland and keeping diplomatic relations with England on an even keel. When the white smoke first started puffing out, I could see a situation where the Argentine government would start putting pressure on the pope to use his influence to get what they want. And sure enough, today, March 18, Kirchner became the first head of state to meet with the pope, and she raised the issue with him.
Last week, Cameron raised the fact that as Cardinal, the pope had frequently claimed that the Falklands did belong to Argentina. And in fact, at a mass last year, the future pope did say in front of Argentine veterans of the 1982 war that they were there to “reclaim what is theirs”, and that the UK had usurped the islands. In the same breath, Cameron pointed out that the referendum was pretty clear as to the desires of the population.
Now, this may or may not mean that the pope will automatically side the Argentina. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he and Kirchner had clashes, primarily over gay marriage and gay adoptions. But who is to say that his previously documented attitudes towards the Falklands may change?
Now, it is obvious that things have not always been fine between the Vatican and the UK ever since Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church and founded the Church of England. Diplomatic relations were established to the Ambassadorial level only in 1982, ironically, the year of the Falklands war. Any outward signs of favoritism towards Argentina in this issue will only harm the Vatican diplomatic standing to the Court of St James. In my opinion, this issue and where he goes with it could very well undo the legacy of reconcilliation with the UK that John Paul II’s visit accomplished.
Either way, he is going to feel it from both sides. And there is just no way he can come out a winner on this. If he sides with the UK, Argentina will undoubtedly brand him a traitor, and if he sides with Argentina, he will alienate not only the government of the UK, but the Catholics residing there as well. This pressure will not be going anywhere soon, what with the level of rhetoric being what it currently is.
I wonder if the Cardinals in the conclave that elected him had this controversy in mind. They have heard and read the news; i guess they just chose to ignore it. Well, whatever. They elected this pope, and they cant undo it. Either way, the potential for damage to the church is very real. This pope, I am sure, realizes that there is going to be one very unhappy group of people out there, and he will have to be very skillful at damage control to repair the hurt feelings that are sure to arise from this global issue.