International News

Pope Francis Says He Plans to Visit Argentina Next Year

Pope Francis greets an estimated 30,000 visitors and pilgrims who joined him for the recitation of the “Regina Coeli” prayer April 23, 2023, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo)

By Elise Ann Allen

ROME (Crux) — An Argentine journalist who recently met with Pope Francis has said the pope plans to return to his native country next year, and that the pontiff again came to the defense of his predecessor, St. John Paul II, in light of recent allegations from a former Italian mobster.

Speaking to Argentine journalist Joaquín Morales Solá, whom he has known for years, in a private audience at his Vatican residence several days ago, the pope spoke of visiting Argentina, saying, “I want to go to the country next year.”

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly insisted that he does not want a return visit to Argentina to be manipulated by a political agenda or twisted to support any political party, apparently told Solá that there are no elections scheduled in Argentina for 2024, so he would be free to visit while avoiding any political or partisan connotation.

“It has been 10 years that I am outside of the country. I don’t have the pulse of what is happening in Argentina,” he said, saying that in this context, it would be “unfair” if he had political “sympathies or antipathies.”

Elected in 2013, Pope Francis has yet to return to his native country as pope, and his failure to do so has left a bad taste in the mouth for many of his fellow countrymen, many of whom are angry and have become critical of him for keeping his home country at arm’s length for so long.

Pope Francis has said in previous interviews that he had planned to visit Argentina in 2017 during a trip that would also have taken him to Chile and Uruguay. However, Chile’s president at the time, Michelle Bachelet, asked him to postpone the trip until after the country’s presidential elections that year.

As a result, Pope Francis said the trip was rescheduled for a time when he was unable to make the stop in Argentina, so in the end he only visited Chile and Peru, leaving Argentina and Uruguay for another time.

In his conversation with Solá, which the journalist published bits of in Argentine newspaper La Nación on Sunday, the pope also spoke of the church in Argentina and the fact that he will soon name a new archbishop for Buenos Aires.

As the former archbishop of Buenos Aires himself, Pope Francis has a vested interested in who gets the position, and has maintained a close relationship to the city’s current archbishop, Cardinal Marco Poli, who was one of the pope’s first appointments and who turned 75 last year, meaning he has reached the mandatory age of retirement for cardinals and bishops.

Though he did not give names, Pope Francis said “there are three strong candidates” to take over for Cardinal Poli.

“I cannot name anyone because only one will be designated. I must take into consideration the opinion of the Vatican institutions and of the cardinals who are in charge of those institutions,” he said, likely referring to the suggestions made by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops. “It’s not just a personal decision.”

Pope Francis also reiterated his defense of Pope St. John Paul II, who was recently the object of scandalous rumors perpetrated by an alleged former Italian mobster.

The rumors came about in relation to the case of Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee who disappeared in 1983 at the age of 15 while on her way home from a music lesson, and whose story has become Italy’s most famous cold case.

Emanuela’s brother, Pietro Orlandi, for the past four decades has led the cause in search of the truth, and he recently appeared in a new Netflix series, “Vatican Girl”, documenting the case and the various rumors and conspiracy theories that have become associated with it over the years.

Both the Vatican and the Italian Parliament have recently reopened inquiries into Emanuela’s disappearance, and as part of the Vatican’s investigation, Pietro Orlandi was recently summoned to the office of the Promoter of Justice to share evidence and facts of the case.

One of the bits of information Orlandi shared — which he then aired live on national television, prompting harsh blowback from Vatican communications officials and Pope Francis himself — was an audiotape with an alleged Italian mobster who accused Pope St. John Paul II of sneaking out of the Vatican at night to molest underage girls, and then orchestrating their deaths, including that of Emanuela, to cover it up.

In his April 16 “Regina Coeli” address, Pope Francis called the rumors against St. John Paul II “offensive” and “unfounded,” and he came to his predecessor’s defense again in his conversation with Solá, saying, “John Paul II was a saint in life and he is now formally after his death.”

“No one can honestly doubt the decency of Pope Wojtyla,” he said.

Pope Francis also spoke of his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world with his resignation from the papacy in 2013 and who died Dec. 31, 2022, nearly 10 years after his historic decision to step down.

“I always had only good advice and permanent help from him,” the pope said, adding, “We saw each other a lot more than is known, especially in recent times when it was obvious that his health was irreparably deteriorating.”

He also spoke of Pope Benedict XVI’s longtime personal secretary, German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who made waves in January for remarks he made in a book published shortly after Pope Benedict’s death that were seen as critical of Pope Francis and which seemed to imply there was tension between he and Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis apparently told Solá that he has given Archbishop Gänswein the option of either staying in Italy or returning to Germany, but said that he could not remain in the Vatican, noting that all the private secretaries of the past popes were assigned dioceses once the pope they were serving had died.

Before ending their conversation, Solá said that Pope Francis commented that, “I have always wanted to return to the country,” meaning Argentina, and added, “Don’t link me to Argentine politics, please.”