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August 29, 2014

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Catholic Church: country is ‘sick with violence’

Bishops criticize media coverage of crime

Argentina is “sick with violence” and rife with social exclusion, corruption and judicial inefficiency, said bishops from Argentina’s Catholic Church who yesterday released a strongly-worded open letter that paid particular attention to criticizing the media for their role in exacerbating what they expressed as a “disturbing national reality.”

The bishops turned into media critics, accusing news outlets of failing to report objectively on issues related to violence.

“The growing crime wave has gained space in various media, which do not always inform with objectivity and respect given the privacy and pain” of the families of victims of crime, the letter expressed.

“Often our country promotes a narrative that leads to division and aggression,” they added.

When it came to criticizing the media, the Church authorities took a line very similar to that pushed by key government officials, who have criticized outlets for focusing incessantly on crime.

The bishops did say, however, that they were “worried” about the growth of crime, in terms of its frequency, its degree of aggression and violence. The bishops said crime often “leads to many cases of murder,” and suggested that society was becoming accustomed to “verbal violence, slander and lies.”

The content of the letter came short of criticizing the national government, and instead even echoed a common catch-phrase of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, that “love conquers hate.” The Church leaders also took on a theme often espoused by government leaders, noting that social exclusion is a type of violence.

“We want to stop to reflect on our drama because we believe that love conquers hate and that our society desires peace,” read the letter, which summarized bishops’ conclusions after the 107th meeting of the Episcopal Conference in Pilar, 40 kilometres northeast of the capital.

The letter was harshly criticized by the government’s allies, particularly those with ties to the ultra-kirchnerite youth group La Cámpora.

“Argentina might have some pending issues, but it’s not sick with violence,” said José Ottavis, the PJ’s secretary general.

For his part, La Cámpora leader and PJ vice-president said that “it can’t be said that Argentina is sick with violence as if we were living in 1955 or 2000 when we were all in the streets.”

The bishops had noted that “the forms of violence that society suffers on a daily basis are numerous. Many people live in fear of entering or leaving their homes, are scared of being alone, or worry about their kids returning from school,” they declared, while also suggesting that socio-economic inequality was a form of violence.

“It’s worth opening up our vision and recognizing that violence includes social exclusion, the deprivation of opportunities, hunger and marginalization, precarious forms of labour, the structural poverty of many people, contrasted with the insulting ostentation of wealth by some.”

The poor, the letter said, “cannot be stigmatized as such” because they too “are victims of thefts and murders.”

Taking aim at politicians

The letter is likely to perplex some in the country’s political and media sectors, since both have largely tried to reestablish their footing with the Church led by Pope Francis, while at the same time propelling issues of law and order into the national debate.

“To construct a healthy society the commitment of everybody in respecting the law is indispensable,” they said, noting that “people are being called to heal their own violence in order to build social peace.”

The letter comes as a range of debates rage on in Argentine society about the formal institutions that are charged with ensuring law and order. A municipal police project is being addressed in the country’s largest district, Buenos Aires province — also considered one of the most violent — while politicians and intellectuals continue to debate the Penal Code reform bill that was drafted by a non-partisan committee led by Supreme Court Justice Raúl Zaffaroni. That reform has been heavily criticized by Sergio Massa — a presidential candidate and the head of the dissident Peronist bloc, the Renewal Front — for being too lenient on criminals.

“The prison system must achieve its function without violating fundamental rights of prisoners,” the bishops charged in their letter.

They also chose to underscore a range of issues like people sleeping in the streets, domestic violence, children leaving school, environmental damage, and gang violence between soccer fans, the latter of which is “often linked to political and social leaders.”

Corruption

Corruption in the private and public sector also featured heavily in the bishops’ letter, which described it as a “social cancer.”

“Redirecting funds that should be destined to the well-being of society leads to inefficiencies in fundamental health, education and transport services,” the bishops wrote, lamenting that acts of corruption, described as “a lack of respect for the law,” often go by unpunished.

It is the second time in six months that Church leaders have propelled themselves into the national debate on issues relating to crime.

Herald with AP

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