Peru's government, church argue over papal visit

Lima (AFP) –


Peru's government and Roman Catholic clergy are quarreling over a planned visit by Pope Francis in a spat blending politics and fears over earthquakes.

The question is where the pope should say a huge outdoor mass when he visits in January.

The church originally picked a beach on the bay off Lima. It is a lovely spot but also features 80-meter (260-foot) cliffs and only four evacuation routes in case of an earthquake in tremor-prone Peru.

Peru has on average around 200 quakes a year, most of them under magnitude 6. The last big one -- magnitude 7.9 in 2007 -- killed nearly 600 people.

So the government, which has final say over all this and has yet to make up its mind, wants the pope to say mass on the tarmac of a military airport.

But the church says the government has a hidden motive for the switch: to slight the archbishop of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani, a leader of the ultra-conservative movement Opus Dei in Latin America.

If the mass is held at the military airport, Cipriani will not be able to concelebrate mass with the pope. Instead, the honor will go to the top military chaplain at the base.

An official in the archbishop's office speaking on condition of anonymity said "leftist, anti-clerical sectors, critics of the archbishop within the government... do not want Cipriani to take part in the mass."

The chairwoman of the council of ministers, Mercedes Araoz, said it was important to choose a spot where people will be safe in case of an earthquake.