Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires has been elected the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, taking the name Pope Francis.
He is the first Latin American pope to lead the church, as well as the first Jesuit priest.
Francis, 76, appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday more than an hour after white smoke was released from the Sistine Chapel chimney at 2:05 EDT (7:05 p.m. CET) to signal that a new pope had been selected. Speaking from the balcony, he gave his first address as pope, the traditional Urbi et Orbi (to the “City and the World”), as crowds waved, cried and cheered for the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
He prayed for the church, the papacy and for his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
“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,” he said, adding that he thanked the church “for your embrace” as well as the cardinals who elected him.
“First and foremost, I would like to pray for our emeritus pope, Benedict XVI. Let us pray all of us together … so that he’s blessed by the Lord and guarded,” he said.
Francis was elected to the papacy after two days of conclave meetings with five rounds of voting. Voting in the conclave, which began Tuesday afternoon, is confidential and cardinals were sworn to secrecy, but Francis received at least 77 votes, which is the minimum two-thirds required to become pope. There were 115 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave. All were under age 80 before Benedict’s retirement, as required by Vatican rules. In 2005, when Benedict was elected, it took two days and four voting rounds.
The new pope steps into the papacy during a key period of transformation for the Roman Catholic Church. He faces a rising tide of secularism in Europe and western nations, and growth in other parts of the world, including his home continent, South America. During Benedict’s tenure, multiple priest abuse scandals rocked the church in several nations, and Francis will have to confront the damage done to the church’s reputation. The Vatican is also battling internal political turmoil, including VatiLeaks, the scandal involving a series of confidential Vatican documents released to the media during Benedict’s papacy.
Amid changing mores on sexuality, including same-sex marriage, Francis’ traditional views have clashed with cultural changes in Argentina. Before the nation legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, Francis called it a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”
But Francis, who was rumored in 2005 to be the runner-up to Benedict, also brings a more pastoral sensibility to the church, said the Rev. Raymond J. Kupke, an adjunct professor of church history at Seton Hall University. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he reportedly rode the bus to work, did his own cooking and visited the poor in Argentine slums. Instead of living in an archbishop’s palace, he chose to live in a small room in a downtown Buenos Aires home.
“Francis fills the bill in many regards. Latin American with Italian background, archbishop of one of world’s largest diocese, rector of a seminary,” said Kupke. “His name choice says a lot. St. Francis spearheaded a new evangelicalism and was a man of simplicity and humility.”
It’s unclear whether the pope’s name is a reference to St. Francis Xavier, a 16th-century priest who was one of the first Jesuits; St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th-century friar who founded the Franciscan order of priests; or St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century Bishop of Geneva.
The Rev. James Martin, one of the best-known Jesuit priests in the U.S. and the editor-at-large of America magazine, said the “choice of a Jesuit pope fills me with joy … The name Francis is a clear indication of his desire to focus on the poor.”
In a 2007 address at a large meeting of Latin American bishops, Francis emphasized that belief. “We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” he said. “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, the new pope is expected to uphold church orthodoxy on sexuality, abortion, marriage and contraception. The same year he said same-sex marriage attacks God’s plan, he also said gay people adopting children is an act of discrimination against children.
He has also shown compassion for people with HIV and AIDS; in 2001, he visited AIDS patients in a hospice where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 patients.
One of the concerns among church-watchers before the conclave was whether the next pope would be strong enough to reform corruption in the curia, the mostly Italian group of cardinals who run the Vatican. National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen Jr. is unsure Francis is the right man for the task.
“Doubts that circulated about Bergoglio’s toughness eight years ago may arguably be even more damaging now, given that the ability to govern and to take control of the Vatican bureaucracy seems to figure even more prominently … Although Bergoglio is a member of several Vatican departments, including the Congregations for Divine Worship and for Clergy, he’s never actually worked inside the Vatican, and there may be concerns about his capacity to take the place in hand,” he wrote in a profile of the cardinal before he was elected.
Allen also noted the pope’s age. At 76, he is two years younger than Benedict was when he was chosen — significant, considering Benedict resigned Feb. 28 because of old age and declining health.
Judy Jones, an American who is associate director the Survivors Network for Those Abused By Priests, said the group is keeping a close eye on Francis and wants him to “show the world that the sexual abuse of children and cover-up of abuse will not be tolerated.” Ahead of the conclave, SNAP released two lists of 15 cardinals it was “most worried about becoming the next pope.” Francis was not on the list and Jones said the she knows “very little about this pope.”
Terence McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, an organization that tracks bishops’ records on clergy abuse, had more pointed words about Francis.
“There is some evidence that Bergoglio is well aware that rebuilding the church will entail much more work on the abuse crisis than was done by Pope Benedict. For example, last year Bergoglio was outspoken regarding the case of accused (Argentine) priest Justo José Ilarraz,” McKiernan said.
But while “Pope Francis’ meetings with survivors of sexual abuse will be less formal than Pope Benedict’s pioneering encounters,” McKiernan said Francis “encountered many cases of sexual abuse in the years when he was an auxiliary bishop and then the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Yet he has been content for the most part to remain silent.”
Francis, whose papacy is effective immediately, will be formally installed at 4:30 a.m. EDT (9:30 a.m. CET) Tuesday, the feast of St. Joseph.
Before that, the pope will privately visit Saint Mary Major basilica to pray on Thursday in one of his first acts as pontiff. He will then have an audience with cardinals at 6 a.m. EDT (11 a.m. CET) Friday, as well as an audience with journalists at the same time on Saturday.
Papal installation typically begins with a visit with cardinals to the grottos of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the first pope, St. Peter, is said to be buried. There, the new pope is expected to say, “I leave from where the apostle arrived,” before a procession to the square and the installation Mass (the Mass lasted two hours for Benedict’s installation in 2005).
At the installation Mass, Francis is expected to receive the Fisherman’s Ring made for his papacy (the one Benedict wore was given up when he retired and purposely damaged by Vatican authorities per tradition) as well as the pallium, the woolen stole that’s a symbol of his authority.
When Benedict was elected, 12 church representatives knelt in front of him at the installation: three cardinals, one bishop, a priest, a deacon, a married couple, a nun and man from a religious order, and two young people who have had their confirmations — a key sacrament of the faith. A similar group could possibly kneel in front of Francis as a symbolic pledge of obedience.
After the Mass, the new pope customarily is driven around St. Peter’s Square to greet groups of priests and laypeople from around the world. In the following days, he is expected to visit St. Paul Outside the Walls. and St. John Lateran basilicas. The first visit is usually to the St. Paul Outside the Walls.
During his first few weeks as pope, Francis will live in a temporary apartment away from the official papal residence. Vatican spokesman Lombardi previously showed reporters a video of the new pope’s short-term home, which has a study, a sitting area and a carving of Jesus Christ’s face on the headboard of the bed. Francis will stay there while the official papal apartment is renovated. The apartment was sealed after Benedict’s resignation and church rules say it can’t be reopened for any reason until there is a new pope.