In the latest clash between Pope Francis and the President of Argentina President Mauricio Macri, the pontiff has rejected a donation of over 1 million euros, citing the need to avoid “confusion and division among Argentineans.”
When reporters and photographers were admitted after the brief private meeting, Francis remained frosty the entire time, without ever cracking the slightest smile, even during the photo session.
The Macri government offered the Pope 16,666,000 Argentinean pesos, or the equivalent of just over a million euros, destined for the “Scholas Occurrentes” Pontifical Foundation, an organization commissioned by Francis when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires to promote social integration and a “culture of encounter.”
Vatican observers suggest that the Argentine President would have thought that making a donation to the foundation so dear to Francis, and which is based in Buenos Aires, would help to thaw the icy relations with the Pope, also with hopes of a possible return to his homeland which has been postponed from year to year.
Francis refused the donation through the directors of the Scholas Occurentes foundation, José María del Corral and Enrique Palmeyro, who stated that the gesture contained elements that would “create confusion and division among Argentines.” According to Vatican sources, Francis expressed irritation by the manipulation intended by the donation.
According to Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli, Francis explained to the leaders of Scholas Occurrentes that the Argentine government has to meet many needs of the people, “but you have no right to ask them a penny. God always provides for us by divine providence.”
Earlier this year, Pope Francis publicly asked people to keep their ill-gotten gains for themselves rather than trying to calm their conscience by a giving a piece of it to the Church, insisting that the People of God have no need of “dirty money.”
Speaking off the cuff in a General Audience last March and raising his voice in evident irritation, the Pope said that “some benefactors of the Church come forward with their donation — ‘take this for the Church’ — but this offering is the fruit of the blood of so many exploited, mistreated, enslaved, underpaid people!”
“I will say to these people, ‘Please, take back your check, burn it!’” he said.
Other observers have noted that Macri’s check contained the diabolical number “666,” which may have further disturbed the pontiff, though the figure allegedly corresponded to an exact need expressed by Scholas Occurrentes, to cover the costs of renovating the headquarters of the foundation in Argentina and for the hiring of 36 employees.
Francis has a history of rejecting public money for Church initiatives, insisting that the Church must seek its own donations so as not to compromise its freedom.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.