Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected as the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years, a surprise choice that reflects the shifting demographics of the Roman Catholic faith as the Vatican seeks to leave behind an era of scandals and intrigue.
Bergoglio, 76, chose the name of Pope Francis for his pontificate and was greeted by thousands of cheering faithful as he stepped out on a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square to be presented to the world for the first time as pontiff.
“You know that the duty of a conclave is to give a bishop to Rome, but it seems that my brother cardinals went to the end of the world to find one,” the former archbishop of Buenos Aires told a crowd estimated at more than 100,000 who braved a cold rain to greet the new pontiff.
Francis, of Italian descent, inherits from his German predecessor a church that’s been rocked by sex-abuse scandals amid a waning profile in an increasingly secular West. His biggest challenge is to restore the reputation of the millennia- old institution and attract believers to a faith outstripped by Islam in terms of global numbers.
He’s the first pope to come from the Jesuits, the Society of Jesus. The order, founded in the 16th century, breathed new energy into the church after the Protestant Reformation and is famous for its demanding educational and spiritual requirements.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi expressed shock that a fellow Jesuit was elected. “Jesuits think of themselves as servants, not authorities,” he told a press briefing.
In another move without precedent, Bergoglio adopted the name of Francis. The name’s associated with one of the church’s most-revered saints, Francis of Assisi, who embraced poverty in 13th-century Italy and is a symbol of humility. It’s also the name of St. Francis Xavier, one of the greatest Jesuit saints and patron saint of missions. A Vatican official, asking not to be named in line with policy, said only Bergoglio can clarify which saint his name refers to.
In his address, Francis asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him “before I offer a blessing to you.” He’s the first pope from the Americas and the first non-European since the death of Syrian Gregory III in 741. He was elected on the fifth ballot on the conclave’s second day.
Barbara Sabatini, a 22-year-old from Buenos Aires who was among the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, said his election was a “great” surprise. “We just came here on vacation to see the historic sites and all of a sudden we’re seeing history in the making,” said Sabatini, wearing the blue and white jersey of the Argentine national soccer team.
Francis may pay a visit to a Rome church today to pray, Lombardi said. The pope’s inauguration mass will be on March 19, he said.
‘Devotion to justice’
The name “Francis signifies that his papacy will have a great devotion to justice, peace and to the poor,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a religious group that works on financial reforms to help the poor. “Here’s a guy who’s taken the life of St. Francis seriously” and “gave up his mansion and driver and lives in an apartment in Buenos Aires.”
Before Easter in 1999, about a year after being named archbishop, Bergoglio washed the feet of 12 AIDS patients in a Buenos Aires hospital and the following year washed the feet of 12 prison inmates. He’s done the same thing every year since with members of different social groupings.
Still, the new pope has also faced criticism in his homeland for allegedly not condemning strongly enough murders committed by Argentina’s military dictatorship more than 30 years ago. He later sought public forgiveness for the church’s inaction, according to the Associated Press.
Bergoglio reportedly came close to becoming pope during the last conclave in 2005. He got the second-highest vote total before bowing out of the running as Benedict XVI was elected, Italian newswire Ansa said yesterday.
Bergoglio was seen before this vote as a long shot, with 25-to-1 odds of becoming pope, according to betting company William Hill.
“To say that this result is a shock, however, is an understatement,” William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly said in an e-mailed comment. “This is a market that has really grabbed the attention of punters around the globe and we saw five different favorites in the short time since Pope Benedict XVI stepped down.”
While he’s held positions in the Curia, the church’s Rome- based bureaucracy, Bergoglio isn’t seen as a Vatican insider. His election came as analysts depicted a struggle in the conclave between mostly Italian cardinals seeking to preserve the status quo and others looking to shake up the curia after last year’s papal leaks scandal.
“The conclave went for a man who’s very deeply holy, not in an ethereal, eccentric way, but being simple and humble,” Christopher Ruddy, professor of history and theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “This will be a shake-up.”
Cardinals in pre-conclave talks last week discussed how to improve the work of the Curia in light of last year’s so-called “Vatileaks” case, Lombardi said. Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s former butler, was sentenced by a Vatican court to 18 months in prison for stealing Benedict’s documents. He passed them on to an Italian journalist who wrote a book that depicted a web of Curia intrigue undermining Benedict’s efforts to improve the Holy See’s financial transparency and crack down on sex abuse.
Benedict ordered a internal probe of the case and was handed a dossier last December by investigators. The report detailed alleged corruption and sexual misconduct by prelates that left them vulnerable to blackmail and was a key reason Benedict decided to resign, Italian newspaper La Repubblica and magazine Panorama said last month in unsourced reports that the Vatican dismissed as fantasy.
The dossier “made it possible to detect, given the limitations and imperfections of the human factor in every institution, the generosity and dedication of those who work with uprightness and generosity in the Holy See,” the Vatican said in a statement last month.
Gabriele, later pardoned by Benedict, had indicated that he leaked the documents to protect the pope and expose “evil and corruption” in the Vatican. Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to abdicate when he retired on Feb. 28.
David Clohessy of SNAP, a US group that advocates for victims of priestly sex abuse, said he’s “grateful” Bergoglio doesn’t work in the Curia, according to e-mailed remarks. “We hope that will give him the courage to shake things up and put prevention of abuse and cover-up first on his priority list.”
The new pope will meet with Vatican journalists on March 16 and the following day will hold his first angelus, when the pontiff offers a prayer to the faithful from his window over St. Peter’s Square.
Bergoglio is a fan of the Buenos Aires soccer team San Lorenzo, which was founded by a priest. He angered President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in 2010 when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriages. Bergoglio helped organized marches to derail the government-backed proposal, saying it wasn’t “just a political question but intended to destroy God’s plan.”
One of five children, Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires. His father was an Italian immigrant who worked on the railways. Bergoglio trained as a chemist before being ordained a Jesuit priest in 1969. He taught theology, philosophy and psychology in Buenos Aires before becoming a bishop in 1992. He’s written at least three books on religion.
Almost half the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America and their numbers have increased by more than 50 percent in the past 30 years, compared with growth of 39 percent in the U.S. and 4.9 percent in Europe, according to Vatican statistics compiled by Bloomberg.
St. Francis, the medieval saint famous for his love of animals, “gave so many beautiful things, the gift of poverty in particular was his main thought,” Nicolas Nunez, 26, a Mexican seminarian, said in St. Peter’s Square. “In a world where we have many things we don’t need, I see that as a signal to return to Christ who is our real richness.”