.- The Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told reporters this weekend the government of Argentina could be violating religious freedom if it withdraws its recognition of the Bishop of the Military Diocese, Antonio Juan Baseotto. Asked by journalists about the government’s announcement it would withdraw recognition, Navarro-Valls said, “Normally I do not comment on these types of stories,” but he noted that, “regarding the news reported by the media about the actions taken by the President of Argentina in the confrontation with Bishop Antonio Juan Baseotto, we are awaiting an official communication from Argentina to the Supreme Pontiff, who has named him Ordinary of the Military.”
“Obviously,” warned the Vatican spokesman, “if the pastoral ministry of a bishop legitimately appointed by the Holy See according to the norms of Canon Law and the applicable accords is prevented from being exercised, it would mean a violation of religious freedom that goes way beyond the established accords.”
On Friday, March 18, the government of Argentina revoked the decree recognizing Bishop Baseotto as Ordinary of the Military, which was originally signed in 2002 by then-President Eduardo Duhalde.
The confrontation began when Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia expressed his support in February for the legalization of abortion in an interview with the Argentinean newspaper “Page 12.”
This prompted Bishop Baseotto to send him a letter three days later warning that he was coming close to “defending murder” by his support for abortion and his distribution of “drugs known to be abortifacient.”
The bishop also noted that seeing Gonzalez publicly distribute condoms to young people brought to mind the Gospel passage in which “our Lord affirms that ‘those who scandalize the little ones deserve to have a millstone tied around their neck and to be thrown into the sea’.”
The media seized upon the bishop’s statements and suggested he was threatening to throw Gonzalez into the sea.
Along with the complete support of the Argentinean bishops, Bishop Baseotto was also publicly supported by Cardinal Renato Martino of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Despite a statement by the bishops in which Bishop Baseotto expressed “his regret for the confusion and bad feelings caused by the mentioning of the Gospel passage” and his clarification that “he did not intend to encourage any act of violence or to offend the authority of a member of the national government,” President Kirchner sent a formal petition of removal from office to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Adriano Bernardini.
The total support of the bishops and criticism of the Minister of Health forced the government to publicly state that it had neither the desire nor the intention of legalizing abortion in the country.
Response of the bishops
This Saturday the Executive Committee of the Bishops Conference of Argentina issued a statement lamenting the lack of prudence with which the conflict has been handled.
“Any possible problem,” they added, “should be resolved constructively through dialogue, which prevents contradictions from worsening and enables paths to solutions to be found.”
“We find it deplorable that this hurried and unilateral decision obstructs, precisely in these days of Holy Week, the normal functioning of the ministry entrusted by the Church to the Military Bishop, who has under his immediate pastoral care a specific community of the people of God spread out all over the country.”
“Lastly, we hope a solution to this disagreement is found soon and that the incident is just a passing episode,” the statement concludes.