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A Peronist Pope?

4 May 2013

Having been called on several occasions a Mexican anti-clerical  (and the hurache kinda fits, so I’ll wear it), I don’t know which is weirder… sticking up for the Pope, or sticking up for Argentina.  But here goes: 

The “liberal” Huffington Post reprinted AFP’s report on the Pope’s St. Joseph Day sermon under the headline “Pope Francis Condemns ‘Slave Labor’ In Bangladesh: ‘Goes Against God‘ … seizing on the specific mention Francis made of the fire in Bangladesh at a factory producing cheap clothing for U.S. retail outlets (i.e. Walmart). The commentari at HufPo mostly seemed more interested in dissing the Pope by noting serious problems with the Catholic Church (pedophilia is a favorite, along with the subordinate role of women) that don’t have much to do with a sermon giving a religious defense of calls for better working conditions and living wages.

Of course pedophilia is a chronic problem for the Church, and it hasn’t been dealt with effectively (see Sabina Becker’s post on an apparent cover-up of a pedophilic priest by the new Pope here), but it was off-topic (and more on that below).

Surprisingly,  the far-right wing U.S. news site, NewsMax, caught what was important… writing up their spin on the sermon under the headline “Pope Francis Rails Against Sweat Shops and Unemployment in May Day Message”.

May Day Message? Well, sorta. The Feast of St. Joseph, Jesus’ step-dad, technically is the 19th of March. But, Pius XII, back in 1955, added a second feast day to the liturgical calendar, for St. Joseph the Worker (the guy was a carpenter, after all), just happening to fall on International Workers’ Day… and giving the clergy a shot at equal time with the Communists and Socialists at putting out the spin on labor issues.

The HufPo.. or rather, AFP’s last two paragraphs formed the lede in the NewsMax story: “A society that fails to pay a fair wage or one that seeks only personal profit is unjust and goes against God, Pope Francis said in a May Day message Wednesday.” Also, NewsMax did not even mention the Bangladeshi factory fire.

In other words, while AFP and the mainstream press went with the “Pope does Popish thing, and expresses sorrow for tragedy”, the right-wing press got the message… “Pope weighs in on labor rights” .

The comments, or rather the ONE comment on the NewsMax site caught something worth noticing:

Another socialist Pope. This one adopted a milder form of Peronism. Mixing spirituality and economic issues in concrete terms of specific obligations through government is the big mistake any religion can make.

There is no basis in the Bible or Jesus’ teaching for state coercion, confiscation, and redistribution.

Historically, Protestants have been more faithful to the Bible, and have produced more prosperous societies without Obamanomics.

I have no idea what “Obamanomics” might be… or how it differs from any other corporate capitalist economic system… and it’s obvious that the commentator prefers some other flavor of the world’s largest religious body, but perhaps the Pope IS a Peronist.

Peronism, while unique to Argentina and Uruguay, is based in indigenous Latin American ideology … that is,  Peronism is one of any number of variations on political traditions in Latin America, that only seem contradictory when European/North American labels are slapped on them.

I see four basic Latin political themes:

  • Nationalism
  • Bolivarianism or Pan-Latinamericanism (not necessarily the opposite of Nationalism.  A Bolivarian might, like Hugo Chavez, see active participation in Pan Latin affairs as furthering the national interest)
  • “Indigenism” * (Generally “left wing populism” in the foreign media, my made up word is meant to suggest politicians like Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico, or Evo Morales in Bolivia … or Juan Velasco, the Peruvian strongman of the 1970s… who are identified with movements meant to open the system to traditional outsiders, often the majority in their countries)
  • “Criollism” (in a sense a false opposite to Indigenism… assuming a rule by the traditional elites, or at least by those who have co-opted the elites… paternalism on a national scale).

None of these are mutually exclusive, and several may be elements in any one political movement.  The Mexican PRI, for example, was nationalist, used Indigeninist rhetoric and a leadership that, while taking inordinate pains to avoid being tarred with criollo ancestry, governed through a paternalist, top-down political machine.  One could same the same about Fidel Castro, who also sees himself as Bolivarian.

In discussing the presumed Peronsim of Jorge Mario Bergoglio — who grew up in a blue-collar Buenos Aires family during the Peronist era  — R.R. Reno, in the right-leaning U.S. religious affairs publication “First Things” try to place the Pope in Argentine political through, but in European/North American political terms, rather than Latin ones:

Juan Domingo Perón is the defining personality in modern Argentine history. He was a protean figure, hard to categorize. Some regard him as a proto-fascist, others as a proto-socialist. But all agree that he smashed the old oligarchies that dominated Argentina, setting in motion the many convulsions of populist and anti-populist movements that have roiled Argentine society.

In Latin American political terms, Peronism is nationalist, indigeninst (although the “indigenes” in Peronism tend to be of Italian and German and East European origin) AND Criolloist.  I think Perón’s fascism is somewhat over-stated, as well as his socialism.   He was a nationalist indigenist, which is neither left nor right.  Nationalism meant a not so much a pro-Axis foreign policy as an anti-British one, and to some extent, Peronist indigenism was more likely to favor the homelands of the German and Italian ethnics who were less likely to be the old elites than the Anglo-Argentines.

As they say in Texas about politicians, “ya gotta dance with them that brung ya.”  And Perón stepped into a governance traditionally “criollo” in outlook, meaning that governance by a self-defined elite was expected.  But, he also had Eva… and when you come down to it, the Pope sounds a lot like Eva Peron:

Eva introduced social justice and equality into the national discourse. She stated, “It is not philanthropy, nor is it charity… It is not even social welfare; to me, it is strict justice… I do nothing but return to the poor what the rest of us owe them, because we had taken it away from them unjustly.”

(Joseph Page, Perón, Random House, 1993)

Of course,  besides not having Eva around (“Don’t cry for me, Vatican”?), a Pope — even an Argentine Pope — is governing a world-wide organization, and the days when the Papacy was an Italian operation are over.  He can hardly be a nationalist.  If he is a Perónist, it is in the sense that he has given charge of a traditionally “criolloist” government,  which, as an “indigenist” … or as an Evaperonist … one can expect him to use to promote not philanthropy, nor…charity…  not even social welfare; [but]…strict justice.”


About that pedophilia coverup:

Perón, in the end, was overthrown by conservative (or, “criolloists”), with the connivance of the Catholic Church.   There is no denying that Perón … especially after Eva’s death… turned increasingly intolerant of dissent.  In addition, his political enemies (and those with an economic interest in seeing Perón gone, like the United States and Britain) attacked his regime for systemic problems in Argentina, and Perón himself for perceived (or real) personality traits that had little to do with governance.  Of course, that’s not uncommon… think of the way Eva Peron is remembered outside of Latin America:  as a clothes horse and a gold-digging hooker, which is much less trouble than considering her as a working class heroine and feminist politician.    Or, for a more recent example, Hugo Chavez.  Not that these people are “saints” (even in the secular sense), but — being mostly on the side of the poor — they are a threat to the criolloist order and subject to attacks based as much on class and assumptions about their nation… and even their most mundane human quirk (like Ms. Perón’s taste in hats, or Chavez’ fondness for earthy humor)  is offered as evidence of their movement’s illegitimacy.

With an “indigenist” Pope threatening to roil the “criollo” interests not just of the Curia, but of economic elites around the world, a push-back should be expected.  Not justifying the coverup of pedophilia by any means, but it wasn’t all that long ago when it was seen as a not-particularly serious matter (and, when it involved girls, was a regular subject of comedy, as when near the end of “Animal House” when we find out Dean Womer’s “slutty” daughter is only 14).    If Francis didn’t deal with it as well as he should have, he wasn’t the only one, and he’s head of an institution that’s going to have to deal with the situation of a lot of bishops in the same position.  The guy’s new at the job.

The Church’s retro attitudes towards woman and gays  make it easy for  “progressives” to dismiss the Pope on grounds that have nothing to do with his social policy.  And the corporate media knows it.  But, it’s like attacking Hugo Chavez’ housing programs because he made crude jokes about George W. Bush.  Or Eva Peron’s social work  because she  and had slept around (even as a minor!) and wore designer dresses as First Lady.

Otto, at IncaKolaNews, questions my use of “Indiginism”, and I admit it’s a klutzy term. I tend to see the rest of las américas through a Mexican lens, and was at a loss for a good word to contrast with “criolloim”. In Mexico, and in Central America, what is usually called “populism” is often expressed in terms of celebrating the traditional values of the commons. While indigenous Mexicans are a shrinking minority within a “mestizo” society, the indigenous are symbolic of — and in reality are — the “bottom of the heap” of citizens. Criollos don’t really exist in Mexico any more (anyone of purely European ancestry probably being not more than two generations from immigrant stock), but the sensbilities of a class born to rule have been with us since the 18th century.

Better terms are always welcome.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 May 2013 7:58 am

    I have read in two separate articles that Bergoglio was sympathetic to Peronism. Interesting.

  2. 4 May 2013 8:57 am

    Peronism embraced the Social Doctrine from Catholic Church (mainly post Rerum Novarum) and is a Christian movement in its basis.
    Bergoglio is a Jesuit who has worked close to a right wing Peronist organization, Guardia de Hierro in the 70s, and he had taken most of its cadre into the teaching staff at the Jesuitic University under his control, Universidad del Salvador.
    The main critic he receives here in Argentina is unrelated to pedophilia or other global Church matters, but his alleged cover up (and maybe even submission) of disappeared priests under the last dictatorship.
    More to the point, he is rightly accused of not opening the Argentine Church archives on the subject of disappeared people, nor condemning priests actually found guilty by justice of collaborating with such episodes of kidnaping, torture and killing.
    A complex character.

  3. 4 May 2013 9:01 am

    BTW, I don’t understand how it is that you places Peronism at Uruguay. There is nothing like that there.

  4. 4 May 2013 11:54 am

    Rich, This is a particularly well written, interesting, and informative post. I applaud you.

  5. 4 May 2013 2:30 pm


    He will play the game like Maradiaga in Honduras.

    To the victims, he will offer his sympathy & good-wishes.
    To the perpetrators, he will offer his advice & services.

    Forgive the nail on your door,
    Dan Tan

    • 4 May 2013 4:21 pm

      No problem Dan… nail up to 95 theses. This is one of those “I’m trying to make sense of things” posts, and appreciate critical responses.

  6. 12 May 2013 11:48 am

    “Todos tanos…” an Argie oligarch would have (and would still) dismiss them as…. and he wouldn’t necessarily be wrong… Peronism was essential an Italian coup d’etat (oops sorry using French is very oligarch of me..).. Would have to agree with Otto (not Bemberg surely…?), the real indigenous in Argentina live at the periphery and were used as cannon fodder by Peronists in the first phase (striking sugar workers in Tucuman for example) and then they were returned to traditional roles as maids to the new Italian ascendancy. Who says Bergoglio is not an Italian pope??

  7. Dollared permalink
    13 May 2013 5:24 pm

    Otto sent me over here, and he tells me that this explains Peronism in a way that doesn’t fit with North American Left/Right. But I’m perplexed. If indigenism represents Italian and german workers’ interests, and criollism is the traditional elites, then isn’t Peronism hard to distinguish from the Irish, German and Italian union members, many of them catholic, that were the backbone of JFK-ism? It’s an alliance of labor and labor-friendly elites, with the Church and the military at least neutralized. Although Eva was the better wife, of course. I am close to arguing that it is the left/right axis in the US that moved, rather than Argentina’s. It’s not as if JFK had to deal with abortion, feminism, gay rights, etc., all the issues that separated US labor from the lefty criollos in the US.

    But thanks for this. And yes, I’m guardedly hopeful about this pope. It’s no accident that in 800 years this is the first “Francis.”


  1. Kirche heute, 8. Mai 2013 | Moment Mal

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