Vatican Warns Argentina of Violating Religious Freedom

Government to Oust Bishop From Post

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20, 2005 ( Argentina would violate religious freedom and international agreements if it takes measures against a military bishop who criticized a government official, said the Vatican.

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls published a statement Saturday that responded to the reported actions taken by Argentina’s president against Bishop Antonio Juan Baseotto.

The government reportedly issued a decree Friday withdrawing its support from the bishop, eliminating his salary and virtually removing him from his post. The Foreign Ministry said it will officially present its decision to the Vatican on Monday.

The Holy See still awaits «an official communication to the Supreme Pontiff, who named the military ordinary,» said Navarro Valls in the statement.

«Obviously, if a bishop appointed legitimately by the Holy See, according to the norms of canon law and the existing agreements, is prevented from exercising his pastoral ministry, it would be a violation of religious freedom, as well as of the above-mentioned agreements,» said the statement.

The controversy arose Feb. 14 when Health Minister Ginés González García declared himself in favor of the legalization of abortion, in an interview with the news publication Página 12.

Bishop Baseotto, 72, wrote a letter to the minister three days later, warning him that he could be guilty of promoting this practice through handing out «drugs known to be abortifacients.»

The prelate also stated that in seeing the minister distributing condoms publicly to youths, he recalled the Gospel phrase in which «our Lord affirmed that ‘those who scandalize little ones should have a stone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea.'»

The Gospel quotation was given countless journalistic interpretations. Some linked it to the so-called death flights, the practice of throwing people into the sea, attributed to the Argentine army in the 1970s, explained the Argentine Catholic agency AICA.

The minister reacted by describing Bishop Baseotto «as a liar shielded by the Church,» and suggested that he had «well-oiled links with the last military dictatorship.»

Bishop Baseotto has received backing from Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, for the letter he sent to the Argentine health minister.

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