Pope Francis has sparked controversy by claiming that more than half of Argentina’s population lives in poverty as a result of “shocking inflation, bad administration and bad policies.”
The Buenos Aires-born pontiff, speaking during a lengthy interview with The Associated Press news agency, decried the impact of “shocking inflation” on his homeland.
“In 1955, when I finished secondary school, Argentina’s poverty level was five percent. Poverty [in Argentina] today is at 52 percent, I think. What happened? Bad administration, bad policies,” he declared.
While the Pope’s reasoning may be on point, his information is off. According to official government data, Argentina’s poverty rate stood at 36.5 percent in the first half of 2022. Researchers at the Social Debt Observatory of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) said last December that by its measurements 43.1 percent of the population were considered poor. Extreme poverty, according to the body, affects 8.1 percent or some 8.5 million people.
Although Francis made it clear that he was "not playing politics," the head of the Catholic Church has scrupulously avoided making remarks about Argentina’s political landscape since he assumed the papacy. He has also not visited his homeland during that time, a fact some attribute to a desire not to boost any political party or grouping specifically.
"Argentina at this moment, and I am not doing politics – I’ve read the data – has a dramatic level of inflation,” the Pope emphasised.
Keeping the conversation light, Francis then attempted to show off his humorous side, retelling a joke that highlighted Argentina’s lack of development.
"There is a theological-cultural story, which says that the guardian angels of the countries went to complain to God and said 'You were unfair to us because you gave us all wealth, mining, agriculture, livestock, and you gave the Argentines everything, everything, they have all the riches.' They say that God thought a bit, and said: 'To balance it out, I gave it to the Argentines.’ Don't get angry, it's a joke! I'm Argentine, but there's some truth in it, we haven't finished carrying out our things," he said.
During the interview, the pontiff again ruled out a visit to his homeland.
"Not at the moment. It was scheduled in 2017, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. November, what happened? [Ex-president of Chile Michelle] Bachellet was finishing and I wanted to go while Michelle was there. We moved it to December, but if you go to Argentina in January you can't even find dogs in the street, it's like Roman August. If you remember, we did Chile and Peru, and then we didn't reschedule any more.”