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ARGENTINA | 26-01-2024 06:09

Milei government official ‘repents’ remarks against Pope, Judaism, Islam

Former PRO deputy Francisco Sánchez, President Milei’s new Cults (Worship) Secretary is self-critical about campaign trail bashing the Supreme Pontiff, Judaism and Islam. “Anything implying emotional damage makes me repent,” he confides in an interview.

Argentina’s brand-new Cults Secretary Francisco Sánchez, recently appointed by President Javier Milei, is trying to turn the page.

The former Neuquén deputy wants to turn the page on controversial expressions he made about Pope Francis and other religious creeds.

In an interview, Sánchez remarks that he is open to dialogue with all sectors. He also praises his predecessor Guillermo Oliveri, affirming that he is willing to continue what was “done well” in the previous term.

Among other things, the former PRO lawmaker called for the “death penalty” for former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, while also speaking against “international Zionism” and “Islamic hordes.” 

Today he expresses his repentance for those remarks.

“Anything implying emotional damage makes me repent. The most serious insult, and I say this as a Catholic and as a person, was against the Holy Father,” he admits.

 

Who influenced your appointment?

It was a decision of Foreign Minister Diana Mondino, who made me a formal offer a short while ago, which I accepted at once with great pleasure. It’s a huge challenge, there is much to be done in this area and I believe that, given the circumstances in which we have received the country, everything done from my department will be key to the Argentina to come. We need plenty of dialogue and support.

 

You mentioned challenges, how do you propose facing up to the noise around your appointment?

We have a team already up and running on one side but being renewed on the other by the minister who has some very special characteristics, very different from other officials in that portfolio. 

Her [Mondino’s] character and personal style leave her open to dialogue, she seeks concord to be able to construct relationships. In my particular case, I’m thinking of establishing relationships with the religions with many conversations – and not just with the Catholic Church, which the national Constitution defines as the recipient of preferential treatment, but also all the other religions.

 

What will be your working team? Will existing jobs be respected or will people be fired?

That will remain to be defined by the minister and the rest of the team.

 

What do you think of your predecessor?

The previous secretary sought dialogue and constructed good relationships with all the churches. He worked hard registering the cults and clinching many agreements with municipal and provincial governments. Over and above any criticism which might be made, it’s all about doing a job and lending continuity to what was well done.

 

Short-circuits with the Church appeared during the Milei campaign, including expressions against the new president by the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and slum priests. How do you rebuild the link after what happened?

During a campaign many things are said which stem from visions of the world but when there is an institutional responsibility, the stance changes. 

I understand that those institutions had a critical outlook against La Libertad Avanza and they are entitled to keep it. That's fine because good relationships are not built around agreeing over everything – dissent can also lead to a good relationship. That’s why we’re going to seek dialogue with everybody, an interreligious conversation, quite independent of stances in the past.

 

Have you already set up meetings with sectors?

Yes, I’ve started to fix meetings with all religious sectors. Last Wednesday I was with the Papal Nuncio working on the challenges of Javier Milei’s visit to the Vatican between February 10 and 11. And we’ll also be working on the conditions to give the Holy Father more calm and confidence for his visit to Argentina this year.

 

What could be the common agenda between the government and the Holy See?

There are many things in common, here [in Argentina] Catholic institutions are central with the Nuncio and Synod sharing a vast agenda in health, social assistance and education with the increasing poverty. We will work jointly in this important social work facing Javier Milei because we share objectives.

 

Of all your controversial expressions in the past, which do you repent most?

Anything implying emotional damage makes me repent. The most serious insult – and I say this as a Catholic and as a person – was against the Holy Father. I said that in a political context where the grieta rift between Kirchnerism and everybody else clouded our vision and confused things. 

So I penned a provocative tweet, which I repent and for which I apologise. But I would also say that I was then a deputy and not on the lookout to become Cults secretary, I had other objectives. 

Now I am in another place and trying to construct a positive agenda, which is the challenge facing the government.

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Juan Pablo Kavanagh

Juan Pablo Kavanagh

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