Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio Is Pope Francis I

Habemus Papam

Pope Francis I

The College of Cardinals has elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church:

VATICAN CITY — With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday — choosing the cardinal from Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first leader of the church ever chosen from South America.

The new pope, 76, to be called Francis, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, is also the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.

“I would like to thank you for your embrace,” said the new pope, dressed in white, speaking from the white balcony on St. Peter’s Basilica as thousands of the faithful cheered joyously below. Francis thanked his fellow cardinals, saying they “have chosen one from far away, but here I am.”

“Habemus papam!,” members of the crowd shouted in Latin, waving umbrellas and flags. “We have a pope!” Others cried “Viva il Papa!”

“It was like waiting for the birth of a baby, only better, ” said a Roman man. A child sitting atop his father’s shoulders waved a crucifix.

Francis is the first pope not born in Europe since Columbus alighted in the New World. In choosing him, the cardinals sent a powerful message that the future of the Church lies in the Global South, home to the bulk of the world’s Catholics. One of Benedict’s abiding preoccupations was the rise of secularism in Europe, and he took the name Benedict after the founder of European monastic culture.

The new pope inherits a church wrestling with an array of challenges that intensified during his predecessor, Benedict XVI — from a priest shortage and growing competition from evangelical churches in the Southern Hemisphere where most of the world’s Catholics live, to a sexual abuse crisis that has undermined the church’s moral authority in the West, to difficulties governing the Vatican itself.

Bergoglio’s election is somewhat of a surprise since he wasn’t really included in much of the pre-Conclave speculation, in part due to his age. At the same time, though, it has long been reported that he had come in second to then Cardinal Ratzinger in the 2005 Conclave so there may well have been some residual support for him this time around. There are several firsts with this Papacy, of course. He’s the first Pope from South America, and  the first non-European since Pope Gelasius I, who was from Northern Africa a and served from 492 to 496. He’s also the first Jesuit Pope, so it’s currently unclear if his adoption of the name Francis is meant to pay homage to St. Francis of Assissi or St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary who evangelized in India, Indonesia, and Japan during the 16th Century.

Update: As noted in the comments, the last non-European Pope was actually Gregory III, who was Pope from 731 to 741

Update #2: Vatican reporter John Allen has this profile of Pope Francis:

Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio’s father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.

These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into “base communities” and political activism.

Although Jesuits generally are discouraged from receiving ecclesiastical honors and advancement, especially outside mission countries, Bergoglio was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and then succeeded the ailing Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in 1998. John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001, assigning him the Roman church named after the legendary Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmino.

Over the years, Bergoglio became close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement founded by Italian Fr. Luigi Giussani, sometimes speaking at its massive annual gathering in Rimini, Italy. He’s also presented Giussani’s books at literary fairs in Argentina. This occasionally generated consternation within the Jesuits, since the ciellini once upon a time were seen as the main opposition to Bergoglio’s fellow Jesuit in Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

On the other hand, that’s also part of Bergoglio’s appeal, someone who personally straddles the divide between the Jesuits and the ciellini, and more broadly, between liberals and conservatives in the church.

Bergoglio has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.

“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” Bergoglio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”

At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.

Bergoglio is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Nevertheless, he has shown deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS; in 2001, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.

Bergoglio also won high marks for his compassionate response to the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the Argentine Jewish Association. It was one of the worst anti-Jewish attacks ever in Latin America, and in 2005 Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, praised Bergoglio’s leadership.

“He was very concerned with what happened, Ehrenkranz said. “He’s got experience.”

Nevertheless, after the conclave of 2005 some cardinals candidly admitted to doubts that Bergoglio really had the steel and “fire in the belly” needed to lead the universal church. Moreover, for most of the non-Latin Americans, Bergoglio was an unknown quantity. A handful remembered his leadership in the 2001 Synod of Bishops, when Bergoglio replaced Cardinal Edward Egan of New York as the relator, or chairman, of the meeting after Egan went home to help New Yorkers cope with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In that setting, Bergoglio left a basically positive but indistinct impression.

Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he’s no defender of clerical privilege, or insensitive to pastoral realities. In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of “rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.”

And Damian Thompson, a conservative Catholic journalist, wants to see Francis clean house in the Vatican:

It’s hard to overestimate the moribund uselessness of the Vatican and its press office when confronted by a fresh wave of allegations of sexual abuse. Every department has its tubby, snoozing monsignori who either can’t read English newspapers and websites or, if they can, think they shouldn’t over-react to “persecution” by the secular media.

What they don’t grasp is that, even though some of the media coverage of Pope Benedict’s role in the scandals was unfair (take a bow, Andrew Sullivan, The Times, the BBC etc) any bias was outweighed by the enormity of the crimes and the cover-ups, which have all but destroyed Catholicism even in its loyal heartlands. Especially in those heartlands, in fact.

It’s a shame that Cardinal Bergoglio never had the opportunity to mingle incognito in the bars of modern Dublin, where he would have found an intensity of hatred for the Catholic Church that the Gordon rioters might have recognised. Young Irish people especially can hardly mention the Church without a curl of the lip. Older folk, meanwhile, feel miserably betrayed. It’s the same story in, say, Boston or Quebec. How telling that the siblings of Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, no longer go to Mass regularly.

I know this is a downbeat response to what, for Catholics, is a joyful and hopeful event. But savage reform to the curia is required so that Pope Francis can (should he wish) take advantage of the successful Benedictine reforms: for example, the formation of a breed of bishop who – as the new Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth is demonstrating – are reclaiming their spiritual authority from hippy-generation bureaucrats and using it to promote the so-called “new evangelisation”. To put it bluntly, a Church associated in the public mind with child abuse isn’t likely to be good at any sort of evangelisation, new or otherwise. Nor can it face down its angry, condescending and well-informed enemies.

Much like John Paul II, Francis spent his entire pre-Papacy career in his home country and has not been involved in internal politics in Vatican City at all. That can be an obvious advantage, of course, and if he’s got the kind of personality that would allow him to take charge and take on the Curia and the bureaucrats, he could accomplish a lot in reforming the Church’s internal operations. However, other Pope’s have tried to take on the Curia and only been partly successful. John Paul II is the most notable recent example, but also his most immediate predecessor, John Paul I, who was widely seen as an outsider that could have reformed the Curia. Unfortunately, of course, John Paul I only lived 33 days. I’m not a religious man myself these days, but I was raised Catholic so I do have some interest in these topics. At the very least, his selection of the name of one of the Church’s greatest Saints, St. Francis of Assisi, is at least a sign that he intends to be a reformer. Whether he succeeds or not is another question.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ben says:

    Actually Doug, the last non-European pope was Gregory III in 731, who was from Syria.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    Hmm, aren’t Jesuits considered more liberal compared to other Catholic orders? Exciting choice either way.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Finally, a pope who understands soccer.

  4. Tran says:

    As opposed to the German before him?

    As an aside, he Benedict said he honored two persons with the choice of his name, perhaps Francis did the same?

  5. Anderson says:

    Given Bergoglio’s connivance with the Argentine dictatorship, I’m hoping Steven Taylor checks in with us on this.

  6. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … Wilbur ?

    Better yet… Pope Psycho.

    (… Lighten up, Francis.)

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Hmm, aren’t Jesuits considered more liberal compared to other Catholic orders?

    More or less. He is a Conservative pontiff coming from a very Liberal order.

  8. Andre Kenji says:

    An interesting point: the missiones, the Jesuit Missions that provided education to the Native Americans are so important in Latin America that Chavez named his most important social program after them. They name a province in Argentina and a Department in Paraguay. São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere has founded as a Jesuit Mission – there is still a school in the downtown of the city.

  9. swbarnes2 says:

    “Savage reform to the curia”? I don’t think the cardinals want that. I don’t think they can get that from anyone as old as their past couple of picks. They’ll keep picking elderly seatwarmers, every time hoping that when this pope retires in 10 years, they’ll know how to pick a good younger pope who will have a few decades to magically and painlessly make the church more prestigious.

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Not a Catholic, but when your mother’s baptismal name was Grace Rosalie Francis Barbarino you can’t help but take slightly more than a passing interest in Catholicism and of course in a new Pontiff.

    I love this choice.

    The tired European hegemony over the church was holding it back. Latin America has most of the world’s Catholics. Makes sense, therefore, to have a Latin American Pope.

    The Vatican had become a modern-day sectarian version of Tammany Hall. The last thing the church needed was another Vatican insider.

    Francis is a conservative Catholic. The Jesuit thing might throw some people off, but anyone thinking about a “liberalization” of the Catholic church might as well go pound sand. And that’s a good thing. Religion is not a coffee klatch or a sewing circle. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Watered down churches are like watered down democracies. You could get more people in your ranks, granted, but they’re not in there for the long haul. So it’s good to see that an actual Catholic was elected Pope.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: On the other hand, if you don’t adapt to the outside (cough usury laws) you can end up with a dead church. Since I’m from a religion that the Christian Church did its best to eradicate (and mainly succeeded), I’ll be interested to see what happens.

  12. Lahar says:

    Living down in Colombia, I was surprised to find many Colombians delighted with an Argentinian’s selection. I am now hearing good natured jokes made at the expense of most “Jorge Marios” (a common name here). Also, don’t get me wrong – many Latin Americans are not Catholic anymore but still there is a strong positive vibe from even these people. I feel this is a strong selection and one that may signal some of the change very much needed in the Church, even if it does not happen on Jorge Mario’s watch. On the other hand, Argentina is about as close to an Italian country as one can get outside of Italy, with one exception – they speak Spanish. I’ve often wondered, what does one make of an Italian whose native tongue is Spanish? I guess we will find out!

  13. Tyrell says:

    Questions that I would ask the new pope: what is your favorite book of the Bible? What is your favorite Bible verse? What changes will you make in the church? What will you do concerning the. persecution of Christians in China and Egypt? What message do you have to all Christians?

  14. Pharoah Narim says:

    ….Yawn…. Paternal, hierarchical religious institutions are walking dead men. The generations they were built to resonate with have long since perished from the earth. What we’ve had for the past couple hundred years is a hollowed out tradition with only historical familiarity keeping it on life support. Each new generation of youngsters looks at the Church with a louder “Meh”. That won’t change. The day will come when it will be talked about in the same vein as we talk about the expired Mystery orders of antiquity.

  15. Stonetools says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    The demise of the Catholic Church has been predicted. Lots of times. I wouldn’t count it out just yet. But it does need to reform and adapt. It has in the past. It can do so again.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    Just the next protector of pedophiles.
    If I believed in god I would never expect her to condone raping little boys.

  17. Dave says:

    I find it ironic that all of the press is about him not being a European. He is second generation, still whiter than his surroundings regardless of what other Argentines say to their neighbors about color. This was a way to pick a white guy with the veneer of not picking a white guy. However, when I first heard it was an Argentine I immediately thought nzai war criminal parents so I guess no nazi ties to this pope is a brightside.

  18. Andre Kenji says:


    On the other hand, Argentina is about as close to an Italian country as one can get outside of Italy,

    Buenos Aires is, the rest of the country, not so much. Sao Paulo is also heavily influenced by Italians, even the accent is similar.

  19. Dave says:

    Also as a Jesuit, one would think the Black Pope would be elevated to Pope. But the Black Pope (Superior General of the Society of Jesus) is now a subordinate to his former subordinate.

  20. Rory says:

    @C. Clavin: Do you know this man personally that you are very sure he will be the protector of pedophiles?

  21. swbarnes2 says:


    Do you know this man personally that you are very sure he will be the protector of pedophiles?

    The point is, one doesn’t have to. Pretty much a a man, they all did it. The whole class of them think that Mother Church is more important than mere parishioners. Can you name a single cardinal or bishop who was turning in criminals who hurt children to the appropriate law enforcement?

  22. RGardner says:


    I concur.

    I’ve worked with and partied with Argentinians, and they are basically Italians. Their Spanish is with an Italian accent. A perfect combination for what the Catholic Church needs (note, I’m Presbyterian, non-Calvinist, and have friends that are Jesuits (college roommate is a Jesuit professor today)).

    Seriously I think the most important item here is a Jesuit is for the first time a pope. Rational thinking combined with faith.

  23. Andre Kenji says:


    I’ve worked with and partied with Argentinians, and they are basically Italians. Their Spanish is with an Italian accent.

    There are lots of influence of Italy in Argentina, but Italians and Argentinians are different. Argentinians have their own sense of melancholy, like the Tango. Argentinians are much more introspective while Italians are famous for talking with their hands.

  24. C. Clavin says:

    @ Rory…
    Protecting the pedophiles is Job 1 for the Pope…every Pope.

  25. C. Clavin says:

    Besides being the latest in a long line of pedophile protectors…this guy is militantly anti-abortion and anti-contraception.
    Interestingly enough the Catholic Church…once it forces you to have a child you don’t want…takes care of the poor and is also anti-death penalty. So there is a consistency of dogma.
    Republicans on the other hand want to force you to have a child…but then you are on your own. They aren’t the least bit interested in taking care of the poor and they giggle about the opportunity to kill other people.
    So I guess what I’m saying is that given a choice between a Republican and a pedophile…in this case I’d take the pedophile.

  26. PD Shaw says:

    Well, now we know who is the most morally repellent commentor at OTB. I don’t know why the site had to run a contest. What prize did Clavin win anyway?

  27. A says:


    Sean o’Malley?

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Well, now we know who is the most morally repellent commentor at OTB. I don’t know why the site had to run a contest.

    They ran a contest?
    Did I win anything? Am I required to wire money to the Nigerian Embassy?

  29. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: I’m starting to think that that contest was rigged, and I wuz robbed. Care to join me in demanding a recount?

    @PD Shaw: Cliffy Claven’s hate is tolerated around here, because he only vents his spleen against liberal-approved targets. It’s not like he’s actually ranting about human beings, after all, just Catholics, Zionists, and probably a few other select groups.

  30. Andre Kenji says:


    Did I win anything? Am I required to wire money to the Nigerian Embassy?

    No, you didn´t. You were destroyed by the competition, it´s too tough to win.

  31. C. Clavin says:

    It appears JDShaw and Indiana Jones have no issue with pedophiles.
    And I am a bad bad man because I do.
    The Catholic church is the biggest business in the US…it is tax-exempt…it abuses innocent children…it covers up it’s sins…and protects its sinners. These facts are not In question.

  32. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: I got problems with pedophiles. Pedophiles like Mel Reynolds, Gerry Studds, and a whole host of Democrat kiddie-diddlers.

    You just have an obsession that borders on the pathological. In fact, it would almost make one wonder just what might be behind it.

    I’ll be charitable, though, and instead that you use it as an excuse for your deep-seated hatred of the Catholic Church over its unyielding stance on issues you disagree with them — like abortion, contraception, and fundamental morality. And how they are pushing back, and pushing back hard, over ObamaCare.

  33. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Oh, and Doug? You made a mistake I was making, too. Apparently he’s “Pope Francis,” not “Pope Francis I.” He doesn’t get the number until there’s a second Pope Francis.

  34. C. Clavin says:

    “…like abortion, contraception, and fundamental morality…”

    Fundamental morality…the systematic rape of thousands of little boys and the subsequent cover up and protection of those involved. You support a bunch of child rapists. Have a nice day.

  35. C. Clavin says:

    I do not hate the Catholic Church.
    I acknoledge the fact that organized religion…all organized religion…is a cancer on the human race.

  36. C. Clavin says:

    “…and pushing back hard, over ObamaCare…”

    Of course if the fictional charachter…Jesus Christ…were not fictional he would be for Universal Health Care.
    As Tsarina would say…I’m sure that irony is lost on you.

  37. C. Clavin says:

    And what would that same jewish carpenter think about Paul Ryan’s budget???

  38. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: I acknoledge the fact that organized religion…all organized religion…is a cancer on the human race.

    I can’t help but notice, Brave Sir Robin, that your contempt for “all organized religion” is somewhat… constrained. Of the three major faiths in the world, you focus your venom on two of them. I don’t recall you ever saying anything bad about the third faith.

    That would be the one that actively hunts down and kills those who insult it.

    So, you wanna prove me wrong and say something bad about Muslims, like you do about Christians and Jews?

    As for your other points… I’m no religious scholar (or even religious), but Jesus did say something about the separation of church and state (Mark 12:17). And while I’m not going to speak for him specifically, I’d say he would probably be pretty down on abortion — and even more down on forcing others who see it as murder to aid and abet it.

  39. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Ooh, the Baby Jenos Self-Pity Party is under way. No he imagines himself to be Jewish so he can feel personally offended at anyone who doesn’t fully embrace Netanyahu’s political agenda.

    Next up: Jenos does some reading and finds out what Judaism actually is.

    Nah, that’ll never happen. Maybe there’s a coloring book.

  40. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: I need to create a macro that types out “As usual, wr, you missed the point.”

    In this case, I said I’m not religious. Cliffy’s malignant hatred of those who hold some kind of faith (a significant majority of Americans) doesn’t hit me personally at all.

    And I see that you will support anyone or anything just so you can pretend to score points off me. Even for you, that’s seriously pathetic.

  41. C. Clavin says:

    “…organized religion is a cancer on the human race…”

    …that would include islam…are you really unable to follow that logic??????

  42. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: I followed the logic. I was asking if you had the courage of your convictions, and would say the same things about Islam that you say about Judaism and Christianity.

    So far, you’re evading it a bit.

  43. C. Clavin says:

    You say you are able to follow the logic…then immediately prove you can’t.
    Which, by-the-way, pretty much describes your every comment.

  44. Tony W says:

    Clavin is correct on this point. If I could make one change to the world, I would get rid of religion so fast your head would spin. Nothing is more evil. Nothing.