After Argentina’s top bishop ran away from me, he sent in Nicolás Lafferriere to speak for him. Lafferriere is a member of the Conferencia Episcopal Argentina’s Life team and directs the church-sponsored Center for Bioethics, Personhood, and Family.
I asked him whether the fact that the gay marriage law’s passage in Argentina–and that it had a good deal of popular support nationwide–meant for the church in this overwhelmingly Catholic country. Did this reflect a loss of power or moral authority for the church?
“I don’t think it’s only an equation of power,” he said. It is, he explained, about faith and salvation, not about politics.
The church knows that its message isn’t purely about morality…. The church’s goal isn’t that you live morally well. The object of the church is that you love Jesus Christ and you know salvation… So, in a sense, it’s a problem shared in the world and the Argentine church is no exception.
The search for god is very personal and… moral perception can be eclipsed. It’s a fact: the church preaches certain moral principles, and they’re not always excepted by everyone, or lived by everyone. They’re lived with difficulties. There’s a minority that live in a more radical way, others who [lose their way]…. We’re in an era where the the media has a great influence in shaping people’s morality. And that creates a large challenge [for the church]. In fact, it’s such a great challenge that Pope Benedict XVI has called for a “Year of Faith” because he’s seeing … many sectors in traditionally Catholic countries moving away from the faith, or not understanding all the demands that faith has.
But, he said, it is a mistake to believe that the majority of Argentines support gay marriage. The area around Buenos Aires was overwhelmingly in favor–where about half the population lives–but in other parts of the country it wasn’t viewed as favorably.
This is a point echoed by other opponents of the law. They also say the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner pushed it through so fast that the neither the church nor the Argentine people could raise objections.
In an interview a few weeks earlier, Father Alberto Bochatey, president of the Catholic University of Argentina’s Institute for Marriage and Family, called Fernández’s government “Neo-Marxist” and “Guevaraist” (invoking the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara). It goes so far in marginalizing the church, in fact, that it doesn’t even bother confronting them, he said:
It’s not even a dynamic of confrontation [with the church]–they ignore us. We don’t exist anymore. not as citizens, nor do we have an opinion, nothing…. [although] the country is 78 percent Catholic. Paradoxically, this populist government that talks so much about cultural minorities, about indigenous communities, it ignores the Christian root of its people.