Argentina’s government continues complex relationship with Church

President Mauricio Macri visiting Pope Francis

After a failed effort to legalize abortion in Argentina, the relationship between the government of Pope Francis’s homeland and the Catholic Church continues to be a complex one.

The Church has continued to be critical of many of the economic measures taken by President Mauricio Macri, warning against rising inequality, poverty, crime and corruption.

The Catholic Church is once again front and centre, as the Macri government faces another devaluation of the Argentine peso. Despite the rift created between the two over a bill to legalize abortion on demand that was allowed to proceed by Macri – and which the Senate voted against – the government is today working on having the Church as an ally.

Poverty levels are on the rise in the country, which is also facing a food crisis due to the peso devaluation, inflation and the adjustment program proposed by the government.

In the face of the growing economic problems, two of Macri’s most trusted ministers met with Catholic and Evangelical leaders. Maria Eugenia Vidal, governor of Buenos Aires, and Carolina Stanley, the national government’s Development Minister, met with Christian representatives to address the issue late last week in two meetings, one with each religious denomination.

An estimated one to three million Argentines today doesn’t have enough food, despite the fact that the country of 44 million produces enough food for 440 million people. According to the latest statistics, 30 percent of the country lives under the poverty line, and that will likely increase during the ongoing economic crisis.

The Catholic Church in Argentina runs hundreds of soup kitchens through the local arm of the papal foundation Caritas. It’s a widely acknowledged fact that at a national level, no institution has better infrastructure to reach those on the margins than the Church.

On Sunday, Caritas Argentina organized its yearly collection, called “More for Less,” and the majority of that money is distributed in soup kitchens and various social initiatives. In 2017 people donated close to $3 million.

One thing most Argentines agree on was the need for sexual education, something even members of the Catholic hierarchy have agreed on. However, proposed changes to the bill for an “Integral Sexual Education” being debated is objected to by the Catholic Church and several other actors because they “go too far.”

When it comes to reforming the sexual education curricula the education ministry has openly said that they’re not involved with it. “It’s a matter of implementation, there’s no need to reform it.”

The Federation of Religious Educational Associations of Argentina released a statement saying that the problem is not the current law, but the fact that it’s never been implemented, and those attempting to change it want to do so heading towards a “monopolistic and uninformative” ideology.

Archbishop Eduardo Eliseo Martin of Rosario, who heads the Argentine bishops’ office of Catholic Education, had similar words, warning against groups that want to impose “only one perspective,” that of “gender ideology,” and prevent parents from deciding how they want to educate their children.

The Church, Martin said, wants to promote sexual education in Catholic schools, but with a “Catholic ideal, because we know that there are groups that want to erase this and impose only one perspective.” If it were to happen,” he said, “it wouldn’t be democratic, nor pluralistic, but impoverishing because Christian values would be lost.”

When the decision to reform the bill was announced, the Federal Network of Families released a document called “I do not authorize,” and they’re collecting signatures from people, opposing not the bill but the amendments.

The group said “Our family is guided by principles such as: Human life is sacred in all its stages and it begins at conception; and sexuality must be exercised naturally, be open to life and within the family based on marriage, admitting only the natural methods to regulate birth.