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How Pope Francis Helped Defeat the Colombian Peace Agreement

Pope Francis refused multiple requests for his participation or presence during the peace process. He also advocated the ideology and vocabulary for those who opposed the peace agreement.

In April 2015, Pope Francis’ secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sent a letter to Colombian bishops on behalf of the pope “in the hope of seeing them soon during one of his trips to Latin America.” (Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay in July 2015, Cuba in September 2015, Mexico in February 2016). Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, president of the Colombian bishops’ conference, said he hoped it would be in “early 2016 …. This date was tentatively picked as it should coincide with the eventual ratification of the peace agreement should it be completed on time.”

[As of April 2015] in the peace talks which the government of President Juan Manuel Santos has held since October of 2012 with the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s oldest insurgency group that has been in existence since 1964, there is ample progress.

The talks were started in hopes of ending a conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives in over half a century of violence, and displaced several million more ….

Although there is opposition from the most conservative sectors, led by former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) who is the most outspoken opponent of the peace talks and a man with links to illegal right-wing paramilitary groups and sectors of the Armed Forces, the overwhelming majority of the populace supports an end to the violence and the beginning of a new stage of peace.

Given that practically all of the politically conservative figures and groups in the nation that oppose the peace talks are devout Catholics, Pope Francis’ visit could sway them to change their minds.

President Santos met with Pope Francis in June 2015. The pope told Santos “he was available to help in the peace process in Colombia …. The Holy Father told me: ‘If you need us to play a role, we are ready to do so,’ something that pleases us, because he is currently … the most authoritative voice in the world,” the president said. “[T]he Church would be available to help in the process with victims as well,” Santos added.

The following month, Pope Francis was asked: “Seeing how well the mediation went between Cuba and the U.S., do you think it would it be possible to do something similar between other delicate situations in other countries on the Latin American continent? I’m thinking of Venezuela and Colombia.” He responded by admitting that, as far as his involvement was concerned, “The process between Cuba and the U.S. was not mediation …. It happened by itself. It was the goodwill of the two countries, and the merit is theirs, the merit is theirs for doing this. We did hardly anything, only small things.”* As regards the Colombian peace process, “we are always willing to help, in many ways,” the pope declared.

However, when representatives of FARC asked to meet Pope Francis during his scheduled trip to Cuba in September, the Vatican declined.

Three days later, a Vatican representative stated that “the shape and form that the contribution to the peace process will take, still needs to be worked out.” Castro Quiroga, president of the bishops’ conference, said Pope Francis proposed that a Vatican observer be assigned to the peace negotiations. “Both parties, the government and the FARC must agree to the acceptance of this figure,” he added. For now, “a public statement, a blessing … this is what the FARC are hoping for.”

And that is all they got.

On Sept. 20, 2015, in Havana, Cuba, “Pope Francis prayed for the ongoing negotiations between FARC rebels and the Colombian government happening in Cuba right now saying that ‘another failure’ is not an option.” Santos “issued a tweet in response to thank the pope ‘for your permanent prayers.’”

Castro Quiroga announced in January 2016 that Pope Francis would be visiting Colombia in the first or second trimester of 2017. The archbishop explained the pope “will not condition his visit to the peace process because he will be with the Colombians with or without a peace process.”  

February 2016: Pope Francis told a Colombian reporter that he would go “but only if the peace talks advance.”

April 2016: FARC Commander-in-Chief Timoleon Jimenez “published an open letter to Argentine Pope Francis calling for assistance in the on-going peace process.” There was no response from the Vatican or the pope.

August 2016: The pope declined an invitation by Santos “to help pick judges for a transitional justice tribunal in the event a peace deal with FARC rebels is approved by the people.” The Vatican responded, “[I]t it would be more appropriate that this task would be entrusted to other bodies.” To be fair, “The post-conflict justice system is controversial [and] has been fiercely criticized by both Colombia’s conservative opposition and Human Rights Watch.”

September 2016: Santos said “Pope Francis will visit his country in the first quarter of next year. The pope promised in February to visit Colombia if the country’s government and rebels signed a peace treaty …. The treaty was signed on Monday, though it still must be ratified by voters.”

October 2, 2016, Pope Francis: “I have said that when the peace process [in Colombia]… if it succeeds, I would like to go, when everything is ‘airtight.’ In other words, when everything – if the referendum is successful – when everything is safe, that there will be no going back and the international community, all the nations, are in agreement, that there will be no appeal, when everything is over… In this case, I could go. But if things are unstable … It all depends on what the people say.”


A sub-commission to the peace negotiation on gender had convened in September 2014. On July 24, 2016, they released a statement, “The inclusion of a gender approach … seeks to create the conditions for women and people with diverse sexual identity to have equal opportunity access to the benefits of living in a country without an armed conflict.”

The peace treaty was narrowly rejected by voters on October 5. This was generally attributed to over-confidence in the turnout for the YES vote which kept some from the polls, and opposition to “a transitional justice system that would have allowed rebel fighters who cooperated to avoid jail time and a concession of political power to FARC.”

However, since the treaty stated the need to include “people with different sexual orientations and gender identities,” several commentators attributed at least part of the defeat to:

  • “[S]ome segments of Colombia opposed the … statements referring to LGBTI groups.”
  • Gender identity “did push a very decided group of voters to participate.”
  • “A crucial element of the propaganda [for the NO campaign] was the myth that the peace deal would have implied the imposition of a ‘gender ideology’ that could have shattered the traditional heterosexual family unit.”
  • “Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics were convinced the accord was a threat to traditional family values as it recognized the rights of gays, lesbians and transgender people …. Vote No campaign manager Luís Carlos Vélez acknowledged that their strategy focused on whipping up indignation among these voters.”
  • “Senator Roy Barreras acknowledged the role Christians [seeking to uphold their unreserved opposition to the gender ideology] played in influencing the referendum result.”

Colombians are 79% Catholic, 13% Protestant. “[A]nalysts reiterate that the ‘no’ campaign backed in the name of the family, mustered consensus among parishes and Catholic organizations and movements.”

“At the same time that peace was being negotiated,” in August 2016 “the Colombian government released a new manual for teachers in public schools, with education material designed to help prevent discrimination and bullying against lesbian and gay students.”

As a result, “Pope Francis’ blistering attacks on ‘gender theory’… is emboldening Catholic bishops in Colombia.” Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez urged participation in an August 10 rally against the new manual. “We reject the implementation of gender ideology in Colombian education because it’s a destructive ideology. [It] destroys the human being, taking away its fundamental principle of the complementary relationship between man and woman,” Salazar said. “Individual rights can’t go against the rights of the community,” the cardinal declared.

The nationwide protests organized by the Standard-Bearers of the Family (Abanderados por la Familia) “were endorsed by the nation’s Catholic bishops as well as Evangelical leaders, who called upon the faithful to manifest their rejection of the gay agenda and to defend the family.”

Former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe – “not coincidentally, the leader of the opposition to the peace accords” – actively opposed the manual. “The uribistas campaigned against what they framed as attempts to promote a ‘confused gender ideology’ …. ‘Saying that one is not born female or male, but that this is defined by society, is an abuse of minors, a disrespect of nature and of the family,’ Uribe stated.”

A week earlier, Pope Francis had expressed a strikingly similar view: “In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender.’ Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex …. God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way…. This is the age of sin against God the Creator.”

When asked to explain what he meant by “ideological colonization” in January 2015, Pope Francis gave the example of a minister of education. In order to receive a loan to build schools, she had to use a textbook on “gender theory.” “This is ideological colonization,” he said.  In April 2015, Pope Francis explained that “gender theory” is that “which seeks to cancel out sexual differences.”

Pope Francis had assumed leadership in the global effort to deny LGBTQ persons’ human rights in November 2014. He hosted a Vatican conference with representatives from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries on “the complementarity of man and woman” at which he gave the opening address. Attendees included:

  • Rick Warren, the evangelical leader, declared, “Marriage can only be between a man and a woman…. The Church must not cave in,”  He “called on non-Catholic Christians to join with Pope Francis.”
  • Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention: “I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelicals believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled.”
  • Nicholas Okoh, the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, had “called homosexuality a ‘manifestation of the devil.’”
  • Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom, “actively worked to promote and defend anti-sodomy laws that criminalize gay sex.” Sears said Pope Francis’ planned U.S. visit comes “at a time when the debate on marriage is so fierce [and] could be the opportunity those fighting for traditional marriage have been waiting for.”

Pope Francis has used the terms “ideological colonization” and/or “gender theory”  in an October 2014 interview,  January 2015 in the Philippines,  in a February  2015 speech to bishops from Africa and Madagascar, March 2015 in Naples,  in an April 2015 General Audience, a May 2015 address to the bishops of the Central African Republic, a June 2015 address to the bishops of Puerto Rico, a June 2015 speech to Italian judiciary council, a June 2015 talk to the diocese of Rome, a September 2015 Vatican address, a September 2015 address to the UN General Assembly, March 2016 in Mexico, in a May 2016 address  to the presidents of the European Commission, European Parliament and the European Council, July 2016 in Poland, October 2016 in Georgia and in-flight from Azerbaijan back to Rome. “The pope has recently taken a series of swipes at the French government regarding its policies on ‘gender theory,’” a reporter wrote this month.

Pope Francis also rejected equality for LGBTI persons in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato si’ (no. 155), and his exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (nos. 56, 251, 285-286). The pope issued a joint denouncement of same-sex marriage with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in February 2016.

In August 2016, a law prohibiting all “degrading” and “discriminatory” statements regarding homosexuals and transsexuals was passed in the Province of Madrid. Bishop Demetrio Fernández said “gender ideology is an atomic bomb that seeks to destroy Catholic doctrine and the image of God in man and the image of God the Creator.” (Pope Francis had compared transgender persons to nuclear weapons, saying both do not “recognize the order of creation.”)

In September 2016, “gender ideology” was a “hot topic” when 106 papal ambassadors gathered in Rome.

When “tens of thousands” of Mexicans marched to protest the President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposal to recognize same-sex marriage in September 2016, Cardinal José Francisco Robles, president of the bishops’ conference, said, “The proliferation of the mentality of gender ideology moves with a flag of acceptance, promoting the values of diversity and non-discrimination, but it denies the natural reciprocity between a man and a woman.” After mass on Sept. 25, Pope Francis voiced his support of the Mexican bishops’ role in supporting the march.

President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9. The same day Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogotà said, “For sure, the pope will come next year.”

In a Sept. 30 videomessage “Pope Francis explained that he will not be able to visit his homeland in 2017 because he has ‘other engagements in Asia and Africa.’ He did not specify which countries he will visit nor did he say if he will visit other American countries like Colombia or Peru.” In fact, the Vatican has not yet issued an official 2017 travel schedule for the pope outside of Italy.

(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.)

*Re: Cuba/U.S. In 2009, Pres. Obama “helped reunite divided Cuban families, improved communication between the countries and helped humanitarian aid to the island.” In 2011, he took action “allowing many Americans to travel there for the first time and increasing the amounts that they can invest in the island.”  In 2010, Pres. Castro “announced sweeping reforms to open up the island’s economy, allowing more Cubans to own their own businesses and to buy and sell property.” In 2012, “Cuba passed a new immigration law that lifted long-standing travel restrictions; it also permitted Cubans living in Miami to visit without overt stigma or sanction.” In December 2014, “after five decades of Cold War enmity and eighteen months of secret talks, the United States and Cuba announced that they had agreed to normalize relations.”

3 Responses

  1. Again, the Vatican has learned nothing from the Galileo case in which it used scripture to repudiate science.
    Now it claims to understand the mind of a creator about gender, that a creator was clearly explicit in delineating male/female – no confusion!
    Then how does this creator explain itself regarding hermaphrodites –

    “a person or animal having both male and female sex organs or other sexual characteristics, either abnormally or (in the case of some organisms) as the natural condition.”

    But Francis’ mind is made-up, science notwithstanding.
    In this so-call Year of Mercy, Francis is merciless toward persons who are victims of a creator confusion.

    • Excellent comment! Good point – another repudiation of science and the pope’s very selective “mercy.”

    • I recall reading somewhere he stated people rigid about law are hypocrites and those rigidly bound to the law among other things often live a double life. …..I quess that’s a pretty wide scope…

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