Political initiative in Argentina looks to Pope Francis’ leadership to solve social ills

Claiming inspiration from Pope Francis, especially his 2015 Encyclical Laudato si’, Argentinian politicians have been promoting since early 2016 an initiative called “Pacto de San Antonio de Padua” (Pact of Saint Anthony of Padua) that calls for implementation of the guidelines of the Papal Encyclical in government. According to Juan Cruz Esquivel (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas e Técnicas, Argentina), who spoke at an April conference on “Politicization of the Sacred and Sacralization of Politics” at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which RW attended, this has contributed to reinforcing the presence of the Catholic Church on the public scene in Argentina. The election of Argentinian Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope in 2013 gave the Catholic Church a renewed significance in Argentina’s political culture, with politicians attempting to appropriate the “legitimatory aura” derived from the leader of the Church and to position themselves as his “political representatives,” according to Esquivel.

The pact was launched by mayors belonging to the Justicialist (i.e., Peronist) party on January 18, 2016, in the convent of the Franciscan Brotherhood of Saint Anthony of Padua—hence its name. This took place in a context of questioning among Peronists after their 2015 defeat in both the presidential election and provincial elections in Buenos Aires, from where the initial signatories mostly came. The document quotes the Pope as well as General Perón (1895–1974) in supporting various causes, ranging from fighting against drug trafficking and overcoming poverty to defending family, developing renewable energies, etc. The local bishop came for a prayer and blessing.

However, Esquivel remarks that the pact represents more than the emergence of a new space within the Justicialist party. Members of various political groups from the entire country have signed the pact, and leaders of non-Catholic religious groups have joined as well. Political figures in neighboring Paraguay have also signed on. The initiative should not only be seen in strategic political terms. The authors of the pact are marked by a Catholic culture and see the Church as a moral resource. What is peculiar about the Pact of Padua is the central role assigned to the Pope, not as a mediator, but as a leader, stresses Esquivel. While scholars have often paid attention to the ways in which religious institutions attempt to influence societies, less attention has been given to political figures contributing to the consolidation of the public role of religions.

(Juan Cruz Esquivel has also presented his analysis in an article published last year in Spanish: “‘Con la brújula de Francisco’: El Pacto de Padua como construcción político-religiosa en la Argentina pos-kirchnerista,” Sociedad y Religión, 2017, Vol. 27, No. 48, pp. 12–37, http://www.ceil-conicet.gov.ar/ojs/index.php/sociedadyreligion/index)