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EDITORIAL: Smoke over the Falklands

The new pope’s 2011 remarks ignite a tiff with Cameron

- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2013

Sometimes smoke gets in the eyes not only of lovers, but of priests and politicians as well. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Pope Francis are engaged in a long-distance disagreement over the pontiff's assertion two years ago, when he was a mere archbishop, that Britain had "usurped" the Falklands by winning a war with Argentina 30 years ago.

Mr. Cameron referred the pontiff, if he still feels that way, to the results of a referendum earlier this month, in which the islanders voted by a remarkable margin of 1,514 to 3 to remain British. "The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear," he told the pope, reminding him of the puffs of white smoke over the Vatican that by tradition signal the election of a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The only question in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, was why the vote was so close.

Pope Francis, as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, set out a different view at a Mass he celebrated in 2011 for the Argentine soldiers, sailors and airmen who died in their unsuccessful attempt to wrest the Falklands from Britain three decades ago. "We come to pray for all who have fallen," he told the worshippers, "sons of the homeland who were out to defend their mother, the homeland, and to reclaim what is theirs, that is of the homeland, and it was usurped."

Someone, no doubt being provocative, asked Mr. Cameron, who was attending a summit meeting of the European Council in Brussels, whether he agrees with the pope about the Falklands. The pope got a polite earful: "There was a pretty extraordinarily clear referendum in the Falkland Islands, and I think this is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands should be respected by everyone. As it were, the white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear."

What is not so clear is what the pope -- no longer an archbishop of Buenos Aires, but the Bishop of Rome -- thinks about the Falklands now. President Cristina Fernandez, eager to distract attention from the badly sagging economy in her care, is beating the war drums. She's trying to recruit the new pope to join. She asked Pope Francis to persuade "major world powers" to engage in "dialogue." Mr. Cameron declined, saying British sovereignty over the Falklands is a settled issue.

The Falklands war of '82 echoes still. The Vatican on Friday answered accusations that the pope, as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, did not oppose, and may have collaborated with, the brutal military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Thousands of Argentines "disappeared," anger with the generals was growing, and the junta fought the war with Britain to divert the attention of the masses. A Vatican spokesman says the accusations in the wake of the pope's election are "slanderous" and "defamatory" and are the work of "anti-clerical left-wing elements." Popes, like prime ministers and presidents, quickly learn that nothing recedes like the first blush of cheer and good will.

The Washington Times

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