THE Vatican newspaper " Osservatore Romano " stated editorially on Christmas Eve that in Argentina "the position unfortunately has changed and becomes not repressive of slight abuses but oppressive of Catholicism, of the religious and moral freedom of the faithful and of the Church."
I he newspaper had deliberately kept silent before "because we did not wish to despair."
The Osservatore recalls an official Argentine statement some weeks ago that the actions attributed to a small group of ecclesiastics could not alter the objective position of the Argentine Government with regard to Catholicism and that that position had already been confirmed by many solemn declarations' in the past.
It comments: "Logic requires that note be taken of the new attitude of that regime, culminating in the divorce law and proving precisely the contrary."
President Peron signed the divorce law three days before Christmas. Cardinal Copello, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and other members of the Hierarchy had petitioned him to veto it.
Now the Cardinal and 21 other Archbishops and Bishops have issued a pastoral letter denouncing the new I aw.
A report issued last week by the N.C.W.C. News Service in Washington says I
The tense situation in Argentina between President Peron and the Catholic Church shows signs of deteriorating into open persecution of the Church.
This is indicated by new reports from both Argentina and neighbouring countries which seem to confirm fears that the Peron regime is aiming at making the Church completely subservient to the State.
Although the Argentine Constitution recognises Catholicism as the religion of the nation, President Peron and his aides are apparently determined that the Church shall be kept strictly within its sanctuaries and rigidly barred from exercising any influence in political and social life.
Throughout the country (adds the report) an atmosphere of suspicion and fear, typical of police States, hangs over all aspects of civic life.
People are afraid to discuss the situation, for there arc ears everywhere listening to hear any whisper of "anti-Peronismo." No one, not even a priest, is free to speak out freely; sermons arc being checked more and more.
• Over a period of years the regime has promulgated a series of laws, and especially one called the law of disrespect, which renders a citizen liable to be put in jail for any utterance unfriendly to the Government.
At the same time the same shocktroops and mobs that have burned and pillaged the property of members of the political opposition can he let loose at any time against what President Peron himself has termed "oligarchs" hiding behind cassocks.
Repeatedly he has said : "The time has come to lop off the heads of the Papist priests."
"Papist" priests obviously mean any priest who dares to echo the pronouncements of the Pope on the duty and right of the Church to make its voice heard on all moral issues involved in political life.
At the moment it seems all too evident that a hardening ideological rift is growing between the Peronist State and the Church.
In past generations, Church and State were linked by bonds of friendship and mutual respect. President Peron himself started out as a Christian reformer who sought the support of the ecclesiastical authorities.
But he is hack-tracking now into a position of open hostility.
45 professors dismissed
The Argentine Government on Tuesday announced that five priests and 40 other professors of the National University of Cordoba have been dismissed on the order of a special representative of President Peron.
A Bill ending all subsidies to Catholic schools and colleges and to the salaries of teachers of religion in public schools has been passed by the Cordoba Senate.
The Bill was strongly criticised by the small Radical Opposition Party, which declared it to he contrary to the province's constitution. which proclaims Catholicism as the province's official religion.
Croatian towns `uncanonised'
The Ministry of the Interior in the Communist-ruled People's Repuhlic of Croatia has issued a decree abolishing the word "Sveti" in the names of many towns and villages. Sveti means "Saint."