Far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei (La Libertad Avanza, LLA) said Thursday he has no intention of cutting ties with the Vatican. The remarks come after his libertarian mentor, Alberto Benegas Lynch, called for an end of diplomatic relations at the LLA closing campaign rally on Wednesday evening.
“It was part of a speech, his personal opinion,” Milei told Crónica TV news station.
“Alberto is an intellectual and expressed that the Church has been systematically attacking us,” said the economist, adding that it would be “irresponsible” for him to break diplomatic relations with the Vatican given that Argentina is a Catholic country with strong ties to the Church.
The presidential candidate said that if he wins the elections and Pope Francis decides to visit Argentina, he will receive him “with the honors of a head of state,” recognizing him as “the spiritual leader of Catholics.”
LLA Vice Presidential candidate Victoria Villarruel also distanced herself from Benegas Lynch’s position.
“LLA doesn’t debate this issue or talk about such a decision,” she said in an interview with CNN Español. “During a political event, he has the liberty to say what he thinks and believes, but it doesn’t reflect my thoughts as a vice presidential candidate.”
Benegas Lynch’s controversial speech
Benegas Lynch, whom Milei has called “a highly respected person,” said Wednesday night that the Vatican is imbued with a “totalitarian spirit” and called to cut diplomatic ties.
“Out of respect for my Catholic religion, I think we should do what [Julio Argentino] Roca did, which is to suspend diplomatic relations with the Vatican as long as there is a totalitarian spirit in the Vatican,” Benegas Lynch said during a speech at the Movistar Arena concert stadium in Buenos Aires City, referencing former Argentine president Julio Argentino Roca.
Roca served two terms as president (1880-1886 and 1898-1904). In 1884, he asked papal nuncio Luis Mattera, the diplomatic representative of the Vatican, to leave Argentina after Mattera protested the creation of secular public schools, claiming education should have Catholic values. Argentina cut all diplomatic ties with the Vatican for 16 years after that.
Roca is also known for conducting one of the bloodiest mass killings in Argentine history: the Desert Campaign, which killed thousands of Indigenous people in Patagonia and took over their land.
LLA members have expressed their admiration for Roca in the past — there even is a libertarian youth group named after him.
Less than a week before Argentina’s presidential elections, Pope Francis warned about those who offer “messianic” solutions to a crisis during an interview with Télam news agency published on Monday. However, he didn’t mention names nor say he was talking specifically about Argentina’s economic and political situation.
In an interview with Perfil radio station on Thursday, Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge García Cuerva said he was astonished by Benegas Lynch’s call to cut ties with the Vatican, considering the economist said he was Catholic.
“For Catholics, the figure of the Holy Father, regardless of who it is, […] is not only an authority; he is our shepherd,” the archbishop said.
García Cuerva said that, given the importance of the pope within the Catholic Church, calling to end diplomatic relations “is at least shocking.”
“As an Argentine, I am scared,” the archbishop said, calling on Christians to vote “according to the Gospel’s values.”
Benegas Lynch clarified that he was expressing his own opinion on the matter and that it didn’t reflect Milei’s position. Milei has spoken against Pope Francis on several occasions, calling him a “representative of the Devil on Earth” and “a political player who has shown to have an affinity for dictators.”
During the campaign event, Benegas Lynch said that Milei’s proposals are an “intellectual orgasm,” claiming that the libertarian has “already won” because he changed the nature of the political debate by speaking about topics that haven’t been discussed for the last 80 years.
Benegas Lynch has a PhD in Economics and is a member of the Academic Council of the Institute for Economic Affairs, based in London. Milei has referred to him as a “prócer” (a Spanish word for respected and often historical figures) and quotes his definition of liberalism in his political events. He is also the father of LLA national deputy candidate Alberto “Bertie” Benegas Lynch.
Milei’s closing campaign speech
Milei closed his final campaign rally saying that Argentina “has possibly left behind 40 years in the desert to finally reach freedom.” He also said that the current economic system “is leading [Argentina] to turn into the biggest slum in the world,” adding that he considers this election to be a breaking point.
He stated that LLA’s proposals are based on “private property, markets free of intervention and free competition, where being successful is only useful to serve others.”
The stadium where the event took place was filled mostly with young people, who wore LLA merchandise and chanted in favor of “freedom.” Among them was a person wearing a lion costume — Milei identifies himself with the animal — as well as another one dressed as Mickey Mouse holding a giant US$100 bill with Milei’s face on it.
– with information from Télam.