“It seems my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world” to choose a pope, he told the crowd in St Peter’s Square in his first address – a joke which belied his image as the cardinal who never smiles.
Analists did not see him as a favourite for the job of succeeding Benedict XVI and his advanced age – at 76, he is just two years younger than Benedict at the time of his election in 2005 – may have surprised those expecting a younger man as the 266th Pope.
However, he appeals to both Church conservatives and reformers, being seen as orthodox on sexual matters, for instance, but liberal on social justice – through far from being a “liberation theologist”.
He was born on 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent.
According to his official Vatican biography, he was ordained as a Jesuit in 1969 and went on to study in Argentina and Germany.
Who are the Jesuits?
- The Society of Jesus is a male order of the Catholic Church, with 19,000 members worldwide
- It was established in 16th Century Europe as a missionary order and members swear vows of poverty, chastity and obedience
- The order became so powerful that it was suppressed at the end of the 18th Century but later restored
- Have reputation as expert communicators
He became a bishop in 1992 and Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. At the 2005 conclave, he was seen as a contender for the papacy.
His election took many by surprise in his home city, where many had thought his age ruled him out, says the BBC’s Marcia Carmo in Buenos Aires.
But any surprise soon gave way to the jubilant blaring of car horns on the streets.
As Cardinal Bergoglio, his sermons always had an impact in Argentina and he often stressed social inclusion, indirectly criticising governments that did not pay attention to those on the margins of society, our correspondent says.
Francesca Ambrogetti, who co-authored a biography of him, told Reuters news agency that part of his public appeal lay in his “sober and austere” humble lifestyle.
“That’s the way he lives,” she said. “He travels on the underground, the bus, when he goes to Rome he flies economy class.”
In Buenos Aires, he lived in a simple flat in the building of the Archdiocese.
When in Rome, BBC Latin America analyst Eric Camara writes, he often preferred to keep his black robe on, instead of the cardinal’s red and purple vest he is entitled to wear.
He is also said to have re-used the cardinal’s vest used by his predecessor.
According to a profile in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, when he was appointed a cardinal in 1998, he urged Argentines not to travel to Rome to celebrate but to give their money to the poor instead.
According to Ms Ambrogetti, he is a moderate in all things.
“He is absolutely capable of undertaking the necessary renovation without any leaps into the unknown,” she said.
“He would be a balancing force. He shares the view that the Church should have a missionary role, that gets out to meet people… a church that does not so much regulate the faith as promote and facilitate it.”
For the Church establishment, it will be a novelty to have a Jesuit in charge – members are supposed to avoid ecclesiastical honours and serve the Pope himself.
- Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on 17 December 1936 (age 76) in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent
- Ordained as a Jesuit in 1969
- Studied in Argentina, Chile and Germany
- Became Cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998
- Seen as orthodox on sexual matters but strong on social justice
- First Latin American and first Jesuit to become pope, the 266th to lead the Church
As a Jesuit, he is a member of perhaps the most powerful and experienced religious order of the Catholic Church, known as expert communicators, writes David Willey, the BBC’s Rome correspondent.
It appears that few who know him doubt his conservative credentials.
This is how Monsignor Osvaldo Musto, who was at seminary with him, described him in a BBC News article back in 2005: “He’s as uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church – everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests.”
His views have been put to the test in Argentina, the first Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage with a President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who promotes free contraception and artificial insemination.
When he argued that gay adoptions discriminated against children, the president said his tone harked back to “medieval times and the Inquisition”.
However, she welcomed the election to the papacy of a fellow countryman, noting his choice of name appeared to be “in reference to St Francis of Assisi, the saint of the poor” and boded well for unifying “all humans as equal, with fellowship, with love, with justice and equity”.
Aside from his universal significance, the former cardinal appears to be a strong Argentine patriot, telling Argentine veterans of the Falklands War at a Mass last year: “We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the Homeland who went out to defend their mother, the Homeland, and to reclaim what is theirs.”
One subject of controversy is his role under the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983, and particularly the abduction of two Jesuits secretly jailed by the military government, suspicious of their work among slum-dwellers.
As the priests’ Provincial Superior at the time, he was accused of having failed to shield them from arrest. It is a charge his office flatly denies.
Quoting his official biographer, Sergio Rubin, AP news agency writes in its profile of the new Pope: “Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them. His intervention likely saved their lives.”
Another accusation levelled against him from the “Dirty War” era is that he failed to follow up a request to help find the baby of a woman kidnapped when five months’ pregnant pregnant and killed in 1977. It is believed the baby was illegally adopted.
The cardinal testified in 2010 that he had not known about baby thefts until well after the junta fell – a claim relatives dispute.
“Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies,” said the baby’s aunt, Estela de la Cuadra. “He doesn’t face this reality and it doesn’t bother him.”
Like other Latin American churchmen of the time, he had to contend, on the one hand, with a repressive right-wing regime and, on the other, a wing of his Church leaning towards political activism on the left.
During Argentina’s economic crisis of 2001, Cardinal Bergoglio protested at police brutality during the unrest which saw President Fernando de la Rua swept from power.
“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” he was quoted as saying by the National Catholic Reporter at 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.”
One issue for the Vatican may be the state of the new pope’s health. He lives with only one lung, since having the other removed as young man because of an infection. Nonetheless, he is said to be in good shape.
He is said to be a football fan, supporting Buenos Aires team San Lorenzo de Almagro.
Life without Luxury
With Bergoglio, they have elected an unpretentious, down-to-earth man who is close to the people. Instead of using the luxury sedan supplied to bishops, he uses public transportation. Rather than living in the bishop’s residence, he has a simple apartment. He even does his own grocery shopping and cooking. And, at meetings of the cardinals, he prefers to sit in the second row rather than the first.
In 2005, Bergoglio waved his candidacy to become pope, which benefited Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. In the third round of voting, up to 40 cardinals reportedly chose Bergoglio. With roughly one-third of cardinals supporting him, Bergoglio could have theoretically blocked any other candidate. But by withdrawing from the running he ultimately allowed Ratzinger’s election.
Quiet and Media-Shy
Bergoglio is thought to be quiet and media-shy, but his rare public pronouncements carry enormous weight in his home country. He avoids politics and takes on injustices such as corruption, poverty and inequality with clear statements.
But Bergoglio had hardly been identified as a favorite in recent weeks, having already failed to be selected back in 2005. His health has also been an issue. Since childhood he has struggled with lung problems, and after a fierce bout of the flu in 2005, he made a slow recovery. During the last conclave, critics said he lacked adequate passion to take on the position.
Still, Bergoglio must have been seen as a viable candidate back then, because his opponents brought forward all manner of allegations against him. Just three days after the conclave began, a lawyer pressed charges against the Buenos Aires archbishop for allegedly acting as an accomplice in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests in 1976. Bergoglio was repeatedly accused of failing to take an appropriate position during Argentina’s military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. He denies all such charges to this day.
One of five children, Bergoglio was born on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, the son of Italian immigrants from Turin. He holds citizenship in both Argentina and Italy — a fact that qualified him as a papal candidate. While his home is Latin America, Bergoglio is also at home in Europe. A man of the world church, his humility and modesty are said to be admired by other cardinals.
Time in Germany
Bergoglio studied chemical engineering before he went to seminary and joined the Jesuit order. He taught philosophy, psychology and literature courses, and became a priest in 1969, going on to lead Argentina’s Jesuit province. In 1985, his doctoral studies brought him to a seminary in Frankfurt, which is why he now speaks German. In 1998, Pope John Paul II named him archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in 2005 he became the head of Argentina’s bishops’ conference. He enjoys cooking, opera, Greek classics, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and swimming.
He is known as a moderate and open theologian. Conservatives prize his role as a Jesuit, in addition to his church work with the poor and in developing countries. Bergoglio is an intellectual, but also a charismatic ascetic. He is well-read but grounded, well-travelled but deeply rooted to his home.
Far from being a theorist, he ventures out into the favelas to visit the people. He seldom seeks a large audience, but when he does, it’s because he has something to say. His main concerns are globalization and the divide between rich and poor. “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,” he reportedly told a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007.
Conservative on Sexual Issues
Francis is conservative on questions related to sexual morals. He opposes abortion, gay marriage and contraception. In 2010 he got into a dispute with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The then-archbishop said that the adoption of children by gay couples would be child discrimination. The president said Bergoglio’s statements were reminiscent of the “medieval times and the Inquisition.”
On Catholic holy days, Bergoglio visited hospitals and prisons and washed the feet of patients and inmates. He stood up for those infected with HIV and for the baptism of children born out-of-wedlock, two stances that carried a lot of weight in a staunchly Catholic country like Argentina. In 2012 he criticized priests who refused to perform such baptisms as exhibiting a “hypocritical neo-clericalism.” Bergoglio is considered to be close to the conservative and socially engaged movement Communion and Liberation.
“We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church,” Bergoglio said recently, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.”