Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has been elected Pope, replacing the retired Pope Benedict XVI. Bergoglio became the first pontiff to take the regnal name of Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi.
Francis is the first pontiff from South America, and the first pope born outside of Europe to ascend to the Throne of St. Peter since Gregory III in 731 A.D.
The selection of Francis came as something of a surprise. Francis is the ninth-oldest man ever elected pope, though he is two years younger than Benedict XVI was when elected in 2005. Francis is believed to have finished second to Benedict in that vote, and many see him as a compromise selection.
Francis takes over the reins of a church that has seen its image badly tarnished in Europe and the United States, with a series of child molestation scandals throughout the world. The church is also at odds with much of its laity over the role of women in the church and in life, the legality and moral rectitude of contraception, and rights for LGBT individuals.
Francis’ selection is a signal that the church recognizes that Latin America looms large in its future. What else it signals is unclear. Francis has been known as a more humble leader during his time as archbishop, eschewing some of the perks of leadership to live in a modest apartment, and riding the bus rather than using the car and driver he had at his disposal.
Francis’ selection represents a hopeful sign for those who want the Catholic Church to work more on issues of poverty. Francis has spoken out in favor of social justice and aid to the poor. His choice of name is another signal that he might be interested in focusing on poverty. His namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was born wealthy, but gave up his worldly possessions to live in poverty.
People hoping for a move toward more tolerance on social issues, however, are likely to be disappointed. Francis has been, unsurprisingly, anti-choice and anti-euthanasia. He has called adoption by homosexuals a form of discrimination against children, and called same-sex marriage a “machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” Also, while Francis becomes the first Jesuit to serve as pontiff, he is known as a doctrinal conservative, and is not part of the more liberal wing of the Jesuit order.
Francis has also been criticized for his relationship with the Argentinian junta that led Argentina from 1976 through 1983. Francis has been accused of being too solicitous of the military dictatorship and choosing to accept the government, rather than work against them as many other priests in Argentina did.
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