by Anthony Faiola
March 13, 2013
Michael Birnbaum in
Berlin, Eliza Mackintosh in London and Julie Tate in
contributed to this
Jorge Mario Bergoglio,
now Pope Francis, known for simplicity
The man who will move into the 10-room
papal residence inside the vaulted gates of the Holy See lives in a
simple, austere apartment across from the Cathedral of Buenos Aires.
In a city with a taste for luxury and
status, he frequently prepares his own meals and abandoned the
limousine of his high office to hop on “el micro” - Argentine slang
for the bus.
A staunch conservative and devout Jesuit in Latin America’s most
socially progressive nation, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio,
now Pope Francis, is an almost Solomonesque choice by the princes of
With the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as
the 266th pope, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic
Church have broken Europe's long stranglehold on the papacy.
The 76-year-old hails from a country and a continent where the once
powerful voice of the church is increasingly falling flat, losing
ground - as it is in Europe - to a tide of more permissive and
pragmatic faiths and to fast-rising secularism. He gives voice to a
church whose center of global gravity is increasingly shifting
But the first Latin American pope also represents a cultural bridge
between two worlds - the son of Italian immigrants in a country
regarded by some as the New World colony Italy never had. For many
Italians, his heritage makes him the next best thing to the return
of an Italian pope.
Bergoglio remains a fierce critic of socially progressive trends,
including gay marriage, representing a continuity of Benedict XVI’s
conservative doctrine. Though questioned for some of his actions
during Argentina’s Dirty War, he may also be a target hard for
progressives to hit.
In recent decades, he has emerged as a
champion of social justice and the poor who has spoken out against
the evils of globalization and slammed the,
“demonic effects of the imperialism
His papal name honors St. Francis of
Assisi, the son of wealthy merchants who abandoned all for a life of
poverty in the path of Jesus Christ.
At the same time, in the age of 24-hour news cycles and the cult of
celebrity excess, he is described by some as so retro as to be
something oddly new.
He represents a flashback to an
old-school view of the Catholic leaders as humble, soft-spoken
clerics who walked among their flock and led by example - though he
has also used the Internet as a tool to reach lapsed Catholics.
“He knows how to take a municipal
bus,” said the Rev. Robert Pelton, the director of Latin
American/North American Church Concerns at the University of
“When he became a local ordinary of
Buenos Aires, he moved from a large, impressive home to a modest
dwelling. He has a sense of social justice, but he can be seen
as quite conservative doctrinally.”
“He’s a simple person,” Pelton added. “The fact is that he has a
straightforwardness and simplicity that is quite unusual in
public figures of our time.”
It remains unclear whether even Latin
Americans will respond with newfound energy to Bergoglio’s ascension
to the throne of St. Peter.
Among many of its neighbors, Argentina
is seen as a nation apart - a country that fancies itself more
European than Latin American, with many likely to see the rise of an
Italian Argentine as largely unrepresentative of the region as a
“Argentina is so secular today, a
more Eurocentric Latin country,” said Joseph M. Palacios, a
specialist in religion and society in Latin America at
“They are Catholic by culture but
not by practice. Geopolitically it makes sense in terms of
bridging Europe to Latin America or the Third World, but
Argentines don’t see themselves as being Third World.”
In his global introduction from the
balcony of St. Peter’s, he addressed the crowd in Italian, one of
three languages he speaks fluently.
He presented himself as soft- and
plainspoken, humble, even quaint, directing his comments seemingly
to the citizens of his new city, Rome, more than to the 1.2 billion
With the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as
the 266th pope, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have
broken Europe's long stranglehold on the papacy.
“And now let us begin this journey,
the bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which
presides in charity over all the churches, a journey of
brotherhood in love, of mutual trust,” he said.
“Let us always pray for one another.
Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great
sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the church
that we begin today, together with help of my Cardinal Vicar, be
fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.”
Born in Buenos Aires on Dec. 17, 1936,
Bergoglio was raised in a struggling middle-class home of a railroad
worker and a homemaker.
He was ordained a priest in 1969, and
his ascent toward higher office occurred during a time when the
Catholic Church in Argentina stood accused of, at best, failing to
speak out against - and, at worst, being complicit in - the harsh
right-wing dictatorships of the Dirty War, under which an estimated
30,000 dissidents disappeared between 1976 and 1983.
A book by the noted Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky,
“The Silence -
El Silencio - De Paulo VI a Bergoglio - Las
relaciones secretas de la Iglesia con la ESMA,” claims
that Bergoglio, then a Jesuit leader, lifted church protection from
two leftist priests of his order, effectively allowing them to be
jailed for refusing to end their politically charged ministry in the
Buenos Aires slums.
Bergoglio’s supporters have cited a lack
of evidence, countering that he endeavored to aid dissidents in
danger during a dark period in Argentine history.
“What this says about him is that
there is a big distance between what he says and what he does,”
Verbitsky said in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires.
“He portrays himself as popular,
almost revolutionary, a man who goes into the ghettos. But when
the military came to power, he did not protect his own.”
One thing is certain - he rose fast.
In 1992, Pope John Paul II named him
assistant bishop in Buenos Aires, then made him archbishop five
years later. He served on a number of Vatican commissions and in
2005 is widely believed to have come in second to Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger - now the pope
emeritus - to succeed John Paul II.
Bergoglio was mostly absent from the short lists for pope this time
and has been largely regarded as a Vatican outsider. That is seen as
positive by reformers who are looking for a cleanup of the Roman
Curia, the Vatican City administration now battered by
allegations of corruption and misconduct.
In recent years, Bergoglio has become known for creating new
parishes, reorganizing administrative offices and spearheading a
fiercely conservative social agenda. He has butted heads repeatedly
with increasingly secular Argentine governments.
In 2006, he attacked a proposal to
legalize abortion under certain circumstances, accusing the
government of lacking respect for human life. In 2010, he rallied
against a measure that made Argentina the first Latin American
country to legalize same-sex marriage.
He also argued that a decision by the
government to allow same-sex couples to adopt would deprive children
“the human growth that God wanted
them to have by a father and a mother.”
His vociferous protests led President
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to criticize him sharply, saying,
“It’s worrisome to hear phrases such
as ‘war of God’ and ‘projects of the devil,’ which are things
that send us back to medieval times and the Inquisition.”
In a 2012 interview with the Italian
newspaper La Stampa, Bergoglio spoke of his desire to broaden the
church’s reach and increase its involvement in the world, and he
alluded to the infighting that plagued the Vatican during the tenure
of Pope Benedict XVI.
“We need to avoid the spiritual
sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world,”
Bergoglio told the Italian newspaper. “If the church stays
wrapped up in itself, it will age.”