The Catholic cardinals have elected a new pope on Wednesday after just two days of deliberations, selecting 76-year-old Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the fifth vote. He has taken the name of Francis and was not considered to be one of the front runners. He is the first Jesuit pope and the first non-European pope since the 8th century.
Bergoglio has affirmed church teaching on homosexuality, contraception and abortion and is considered to be among the most conservative in Latin America. In 2010, for instance, Bergoglio stated that same-sex adoption is a form of discrimination against children and has said that same-sex marriage is “a scheme to destroy God’s plan” and “a real and dire anthropological throwback.” He strongly opposed legislation introduced in 2010 by the Argentine Government to allow for marriage equality, writing a letter warning that it would “gravely harm the family.”
However, Bergoglio has focused on helping the poor throughout his career, noting, “The suffering of innocent and peaceful continues to slap us, the contempt for the rights of individuals and peoples are so far away, the rule of money with his demonic effects as drugs, corruption, trafficking people, including children, along with material and moral poverty are big problems.”
In 2001, upon becoming cardinal, Bergoglio “discouraged people from spending the money to fly to Rome to celebrate with him and advised that they instead donate the funds to help alleviate poverty at home.” He lived in a simple apartment, cooked his own food, and traveled by bus instead of a chauffeured limousine.
However, Bergoglio has been criticized by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) for his behavior during the 1976–1983 dictatorship in Argentina, with some journalists claiming that he prevented human rights groups from finding political prisoners by imprisoning them in his vacation home.
During the period of the dictatorship, the Catholic Church failed to confront the regime, even as it was kidnapping and killing thousands. The church eventually issued a blanket apology for its actions in October of 2012, though Bergoglio “invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court” to address two cases in which he was directly involved. When he did testify in 2010, his “answers were evasive,” human rights activists claim.
It has been 1,272 years since a non-European pope led the Church, and is particularly appropriate today, as the number of Catholics have declined in Europe, but grown significantly throughout Latin America. It is now home to 41 percent of Catholics and is “perceived as a Catholic bedrock that needs support to counter the tremendous growth of Protestantism. “
White smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel at 7:07 PM at Vatican City, as the crowd cheered loudly in anticipation. The inaugural mass for the new Pope could take place as early as this week.