Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, from Argentina was elected as the Catholic Church's new pope Wednesday night. He is taking the name Francis. Thousands of Catholics gathered under umbrellas outside St. Peter's Basilica, eagerly listening to the church's 266th pontiff, who addressed the faithful from the balcony.
"As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome. It seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away, but here I am," said Pope Francis, who is now the first pope from Latin America. He then recited the Lord's Prayer.
The new pope replaces Benedict XVI, whose surprise resignation last month prompted the 115 Roman Catholic cardinals to initiate a conclave, a Latin phrase meaning "with a key," to pick a new leader for the world's almost 2 billion Catholics.
Francis, a Jesuit, is the first pope ever elected from Latin America, a region of the world with 480 million Catholics. He won the necessary two-thirds vote after only two days of the conclave. Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires, but stepped down last year. In 2010, he said allowing gay couples to adopt is a form of discrimination against children, earning a rebuke from the country's president. According to the National Catholic Reporter, he is known to be conservative and orthodox in his beliefs, but also is "no defender of clerical privilege." Francis has criticized priests who will not baptize children born outside of marriage, calling the practice hypocritical. He also lived simply when he served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, cooking his own meals, taking public transportation, and refusing to live in the archbishop's mansion. "Even his critics acknowledge that he's a humble person," said Princeton law professor and Christian conservative thinker Robert P. George, who speculated the pope chose the name Francis because St. Francis symbolizes humility in the Catholic Church. Francis was raised by working class parents; his father was an immigrant to Argentina from Italy.
Several other candidates were considered front runners, including Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana, who would have become the first African pope in modern times. No pope has been elected from outside of Europe since the 8th century.
The new church leader takes over an organization many say is in crisis, from damaging allegations of internal squabbling to the cover-up and abetting of sexual abuse, though the latter issue came to light before Benedict's papacy.
Some sources say the Catholic Church in the U.S. has paid out as much as $3 billion to settle sexual abuse claims, though others estimate a billion less. At least eight U.S. Catholic dioceses declared bankruptcy protection. Benedict said in a 1998 U.S. visit that he was ashamed of the sex abuse scandal, and assured that the church would not allow pedophiles to become priests.
The Pope Emeritus also faced criticism for his role in overseeing the church's reaction to the sexual abuse crisis, as well as revelations from the "Vatileaks" incident. The pope's butler was implicated in the leaking of documents that included what Italian media first characterized as evidence of blackmail and disarray among church leaders regarding how to address growing concerns about money laundering.
Though Benedict basically dismissed those allegations as exaggerated, he remarked that the leaks and results of the ensuing investigation he commissioned had saddened him. Church outsiders have speculated that the results of Benedict's investigation may have led to his decision to resign from the papacy, a move unprecedented in six centuries.
The new pope will also face pressure to modernize the church on issues from reforming the clergy to allowing contraception. It's unclear if the cardinals will pick a pope who will change the church or a conservative leader who will remain dedicated to its current principals.
- Religion & Beliefs