In a historic move, 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope on Wednesday. As the AP reports, Bergoglio is the first head of the Catholic Church ever to come from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name Pope Francis.
Bergoglio‘s age was a surprise, considering that many commentators assumed the cardinals would select someone younger. But, alas, they chose a man who, by expert accounts, is more than qualified for the job.
The Catholic Church’s new leader was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1936 and he has four brothers and sisters. Bergoglio was born to an Italian immigrant railroad father and a mother who was a housewife. While he originally wanted to be a chemist, his path took a very obvious turn. In 1958, the National Catholic Reporter reports that he joined the Society of Jesus and began preparing for the priesthood. Just over five decades later, he will now lead the church that he joined as a young man.
Prior to his selection, CNN reported that Pergoglio is known as a “straight-shooter” who has no problem calling situations as he sees them. Potentially crushing dreams that he will take the church in a more liberal direction, he subscribes to the Catholicism’s most conservative wing (although there are some concerns about social justice, a subject we will deal with later on in this post).
On contraceptives and gay marriage, he has, in the past, taken strict, conservative stances. And he once called abortion a “death sentence” for the unborn.
The archbishop of Buenos Aires spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests. It is believed that he was nearly selected during the 2005 conclave. The National Catholic Reporter noted just how close to the papacy he might have been last go-around:
After the dust settled from the election of Benedict XVI, various reports identified the Argentine Jesuit as the main challenger to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. One cardinal later said the conclave had been “something of a horse race” between Ratzinger and Bergoglio, and an anonymous conclave diary splashed across the Italian media in September 2005 claimed that Bergoglio received 40 votes on the third ballot, just before Ratzinger crossed the two-thirds threshold and became pope.
Though it’s hard to say how seriously one should take the specifics, the general consensus is that Bergoglio was indeed the “runner-up” last time around. He appealed to conservatives in the College of Cardinals as a man who had held the line against liberalizing currents among the Jesuits, and to moderates as a symbol of the church’s commitment to the developing world.
Watch the Vatican’s announcement and Pope Francis’ reveal, below:
The Register also notes that Pope Francis is a scholar who has deep roots in theology, having studied in Germany. He’s known for being down-to-earth, rejecting a chauffeured limousine instead to take public transportation to work. He also cooked his own meals — another sign that he is not concerned with opulence and riches.
Considering these personal life choices, it’s no surprise that Pope Francis is a fierce defender of the poor. In the past, he has spoken openly about his belief that there is an “unjust distribution of goods.”
In 2007, he said, “We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
Pope Francis’ views have caused some to wonder if he endorses government-centric social justice. A Business Insider piece from last year claimed that he would embrace this ideology and embed it into the church if selected.
“Social Justice moves to the front of the Church’s concerns,” the outlet wrote of Bergoglio’s potential election. “He’d also carry out a humble papacy. Say goodbye to Benedict’s ostentation in papal clothing.”
Of course, social justice takes on many forms. Encouraging believers to treat the poor well and mandating that citizens pay more in income taxes so that monies can be redistributed — well, those are two very different animals. We’ll have to wait and see on which side Bergoglio falls.
On Wednesday, after announcing `’Habemus Papum” — `’We have a pope!” — a cardinal standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday revealed the identity of the new pontiff, using his Latin name. Pope Benedict XVI, who retired last month, became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
A stunned-looking Bergoglio shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square, marveling that the cardinals had had to look to “the end of the earth” to find a bishop of Rome.
He asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose stunning resignation paved the way for the tumultuous conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy. The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions to select the 266th pontiff in a remarkably fast conclave (more fun and interesting facts about the conclave can be found here).
Watch live coverage of Bergoglio‘s election, below:
Read more about Pope Francis in a profile that was published by the Reporter earlier this month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This is a breaking news story. Stay tuned for updates.
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