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Habemus Papam: Pope Francis Roundup

posted by Taline Cox and Sabrina Stein

On March 13, 2013, after five rounds of voting, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was selected as pope, making him the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the first non-European pope in modern times, and the first from the Jesuit order. In this post, we round up a range of reactions to the selection of the new pope—both within the English-language press and across Latin America.

Cardinal Bergoglio is the first pope to have chosen the name of Francis. Many assume that this choice is in reference to St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order. At CNN, Holly Yan points out that “St. Francis of Assisi was born the son of a rich cloth merchant. But he lived in rags among beggars at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.” An article at La Vanguardia quotes Europa Press, stating that while it is possible Bergoglio meant to recall St. Francis of Assisi, it is also possible that he was choosing to remember St. Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Society of Jesus. Should this be the case, it would give a different connotation to his papacy, one of evangelization, rather than piety.

In particular, Pope Francis has been lauded for his humble behavior as a cardinal. At the Global Post’s Belief blog, Emily Judem writes that the new pope is an extremely humble man, eschewing showy garments, and taking public transportation to work. She quotes Charles Sennott, Global Post founder, as saying, “The thing to know about Cardinal Bergoglio is that he has often been regarded as the conscience of the church in terms of the costs of globalization on the world’s poor.” An article in the Economist claims that “this was a good moment for a rupture with the past, and in some respects the cardinals’ choice does represent a clean break.… Pope Francis is different enough, in style and origin, to be credible as a ‘new broom’ sweeping the Vatican stables clean.” However, Francis still supports the church’s very conservative views on gay marriage and abortion. La Nacion writes that Pope Francis is an avid opponent of both matrimonio igualitario—egalitarian (gay) marriage—and abortion. He has been quoted as saying, “No seamos ingenuos: no se trata de una simple lucha política; es la pretensión destructiva al plan de Dios” (Let’s not be naïve; it is not just a political struggle, but a claim to destroy God’s Plan).

There has also been controversy surrounding the new pope’s relationship with the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983. An article written by Horacio Verbitsky, author of El Silencio (The Silence), in which Bergoglio is implicated with the junta, provides five testimonials, which, according to Verbitsky, confirm Bergoglio’s role. Defenders of Francis have included Nobel Peace Prize winner Perez Esquivel, who has vouched for Francis’s actions during the dictatorship, stating that while some members of the church were active with the junta, Francis was not one of them. An article for the Guardian takes a more neutral stance, calling the evidence “sketchy” and “contested,” while also referencing an apology that the church made in 2000, regarding its failure to take a stand against the military regime.

For the first time in history, the Vatican did not only signal the election of a new pope via white smoke but also, simultaneously, tweetedhabemus papam.” Presidents across Latin America welcomed the first South American pope as their own. A compilation by Infobae includes the various tweets, as well as comments from regional leaders, including president of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro, who said that Hugo Chávez must have influenced the decision from Heaven.

At 75, Francis is the nintholdest pope ever elected, according to Nate Silver. Silver notes that while the cardinals may not have been thinking directly about the length of Pope Francis’ term, “if Francis serves for 5 to 10 years, a considerable number of the cardinals will have another opportunity to steer the course of the church by voting again on a pope, something that would have been much less likely had they selected a candidate in his 50s or 60s.”

For a larger discussion on the issues that Pope Francis faces in his new role, see this New York Times article by Rachel Donadio.

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2 Responses to “Habemus Papam: Pope Francis Roundup”

  1. avatar Marcela F. Gonzalez says:

    I would like to make a clarification to the article. There are not two equally valid but opposite positions about the relation of Bergoglio with the dictatorship. Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize recipient precisely for his struggle for the human rights in Argentina, Strassera, Chief Prosecutor during the historic 1985 trial to the militaries, and Hesayne, a Bishop recognized for his human rights struggle during the dictatorship, just to name some of the most respectable people in the struggle for the human rights in Argentina, said Bergoglio was not associated nor collaborated with the dictatorship and was not even mentioned during the trial to the militaries. Verbitsky’s position is simply false.

  2. avatar Patrick Gillick says:

    I think it is interesting to watch the commentary on the election by secular sources. On one hand there appears to be an interest in what appears to be a new direction for the Catholic Church, and a renewed emphasis on care for the poor. Many of the posts, such as this one, outline his difference from previous popes, but then in an almost lamenting tone say that he hasn’t changed on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. I think it is a telling sign of the divide between secular media and academics, and religious people. To the secular world it would not make sense that a “reformer” would change the churches primary focus towards care for the poor, and as a “liberal” not agree with politically liberal policies on gay marriage and abortion. In the secular world, there is a spectrum when it comes to issues and values, but the Catholic use of liberal does not align with that spectrum. The problem is that many sources want to place binary labels onto people and organizations “liberal” or “conservative” but in a pluralistic world binary labels must be specific. Gay marriage and abortion are non-issues in the Church and its hierarchy, in that there is only one position to have on the issues, so using the label liberal to describe Bergoglio refers not to his views on those issues but in terms of his desire to advocate for Social Justice issues over doctrinal and ecclesiastical structure. I think the shock that is underlining many authors’ writing, arises out of a fundamental difference in what they perceive to be issues up for discussion and debate, and those that the Church perceives.

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