Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires Named Pope Francis
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has emerged as the new Pope, replacing Benedict XVI as the head of the world’s largest religion and inheriting a troubled legacy marred by a global epidemic of child sex abuse.
White smoke rose from the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday, signaling that the College of Cardinals had arrived at a decision following five rounds of voting over the past two days.
Bergoglio, 76, becomes the first non-European to ever ascend to the papacy. Vatican radio reports that he has chosen the name Francis, the first pontiff ever to do so, a choice heavily laden with symbolism. St. Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher who lived in the late 12th and early 13th century and was renowned as a champion of the poor and oppressed. He is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
Pope Francis was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The son of Italian immigrants studied at the Theological Faculty of San Miguel and received a licentiate in philosophy. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1969, and rose to Bishop of Auca in 1992. On February 28, 1998, he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In 2001, Pope John Paul II proclaimed him a cardinal.
In 2005, the Archbishop Bergoglio participated in the conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) to the papacy. He was the second choice for pope on each ballot in that conclave.
Bergoglio also served as president of the Bishop’s Conference of Argentina from 2005- 2011.
The new pope is known for his humility and asceticism, eschewing the opulent church mansion in Buenos Aires for a small apartment. He famously took public transportation to work, and he has been critical of the Argentine government’s failure to adequately address the nation’s economic inequality.
However, Bergoglio has been criticized for not opposing the US-backed military dictatorship that brutally ruled Argentina from 1976-1983. He has been accused of conspiring with the ruling junta in the 1976 kidnapping of two Jesuit priests who opposed the regime.
Bergoglio is known as a social conservative and as a particularly conservative Jesuit. He is staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage, which is legal in Argentina. He opposes gay rights but has stressed the importance of respecting gay people. He once visited an AIDS hospice and kissed the feet of a dozen patients. He is, as can be expected, also opposed to contraception and female priests.
Bergoglio takes the helm of a Catholic Church reeling from a global epidemic of child sex abuse by priests and other clergy. A staggering number of people, many of them young boys at the time of the alleged crimes, claim to have been raped, molested or otherwise abused by priests and other church leaders. This scandal has touched every inhabited continent on earth, and allegations of a cover-up at the highest levels of Vatican leadership has compounded the severity of the scandal.
Victims groups claim that Pope Benedict XVI, who took the unprecedented step of resigning for reasons largely unknown, turned a blind eye as churches moved priests and other clergy who raped and molested children and other parishioners from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and alerting law enforcement authorities when he was head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department in his pre-papal years.
Classified US embassy cables published by the whistleblower website Wikileaks in 2010 revealed that the Vatican under Benedict refused to allow officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating decades of child sex abuse by clergy. Even more shocking, a 1997 ‘smoking gun’ letter from the Vatican to Catholic bishops in Ireland ordering them to refrain from reporting child sex abuse cases proved that the highest levels of the Catholic church were complicit in a massive cover-up. Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenny slammed the Vatican for its “absolutely disgraceful” behavior in the scandal.
While the Vatican leadership continues to deny responsibility for the global sex abuse scandal and Benedict XVI enjoys immunity from prosecution for his role in the cover-up, new abuse allegations keep making headlines around the world. In Los Angeles, where disgraced Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top church officials conspired to protect child-raping priests and other abusive clergy, the names of two dozen additional suspected abusers have recently been released. More than 500 victims of past church sex abuse reached a $660 million settlement with the archdiocese in 2007, the largest such payout in church history. And on Tuesday, a law firm representing alleged victims of clergy sex abuse announced that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would pay $10 million to four people who claim to have been abused.
This is the epic crisis which Pope Francis inherits as he becomes the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
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