‘I don’t like the 666’: Pope rejects suspect donation from Argentinian government
Scholas Occurrente is an international educational network that was created at the initiative of the Pontiff following his election in 2013. The funds from the center-right Argentinian government were to go to covering the cost of maintaining its Buenos Aires headquarters and providing salaries for 36 of its staff, but the offer was rebuffed in a letter penned by Jose Maraa del Corral and Enrique Palmeyro, the foundation’s directors.
“Taking into account that some may try to distort this institutional gesture, with the aim of creating confusion and sowing division among Argentines, we agree on suspending the non-refundable contribution fee amounting to 16,666,000,” they wrote in their response last week.
La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, said the rejection had come straight from the Pope himself.
“The Argentine government needs to address so many needs you shouldn’t be demanding a single penny from it,” said the 79-year-old when addressing the directors.
In the post-script, the Pontiff added: “I don’t like the 666.”
Pope Francis vs. President Macri
While the Pope’s pithy remark has attracted headlines, the incident has also widened a personal and political rift between Francis, formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and Argentina’s current President, Mauricio Macri. The pontiff was Archbishop of Buenos Aires when Macri was its mayor for the six years prior to Pope Francis’ elevation to his current position.
The two men reportedly fell out in 2009 when Macri allowed a gay wedding to go forward in the city without legal challenge, and their first meeting after the President’s election this year was described as a “chilly” affair, lasting all of 20 minutes.
The Pope’s allies have portrayed the donation as an attempt to buy influence and seize an opportunity to capitalize on the Catholic leader’s popularity.
“The 16 million didn’t sound good. Whoever thinks that by giving money, especially public funds to a foundation directly or indirectly linked to Francis, is making a gesture to the Pope, is stupid,” said Juan Grabois, a Vatican advisor.
The government shot back, however, saying it was Scholas Occurrente that had initially asked for its support and that, while it was “suspending” the donation, it still regards the work of the foundation “important.”
In a Facebook post, Cabinet Chief Marco Pena also accused Pope Francis of making “too many gestures toward one part of the political spectrum and too few for the other.”
The Pope has recently met with anti-American left-wing human rights activist Hebe de Bonafini, while those close to him have intimated that Francis, whose religious writings often echo socialist thinking, does not support the pro-austerity and pro-capitalist stance of the new government.
“It cannot be that the pope is a symbol of union and accord between Cuba and the United States, with deep historical differences as enemies, and in our country he is a figure of discord,” said a senior government official recently.
With the suspected falling out threatening to damage both parties, Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra met with the Pope in Rome on Monday.
“There is no animosity towards the president,” she assured after leaving the Vatican. “It was a very rich, very natural conversation, with no calling of accounts or enormous philosophical differences.”