Pope Francis: A prelate who has preached against 'huge inequities'

The first pope from Latin America has highlighted in recent years the region's yawning gap between rich and poor. 

Natacha Pisarenko/AP
This Feb. 14 photo shows Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, leading a mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The next leader of the Roman Catholic church combines a Jesuit intellectual mind with a life spent advocating for social justice and the poor, and in 2009 he made headlines for criticizing the government of Argentina for allowing “huge inequities” between the rich and the poor to develop.

After only five rounds of votes in the Sistine Chapel and at roughly 8:30 tonight, the phrase "Habemus Papam" or “We have a pope,” was spoken on the plaza balcony in Vatican City – and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina appeared, dressed in white, to say the Lord’s Prayer.

The man that believing Roman Catholics call the “successor” of the apostle Peter, and “the vicar of Christ” will go by the name of Pope Francis. He speaks three languages, and is both the first non-European pope in modern times and the first from a developing country.

Mr. Bergoglio was elected in a swift five votes of a conclave of 115 cardinals.

According to John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936 to an Italian immigrant family. He was educated as a theologian in Germany, cooks his own meals, and eschews the ornate trappings of church power – he travels by bus. He became widely known for his analysis of the negative effect of globalization on parts of the developing world. At the same time, he opposed the once-powerful liberation theology movement that previous popes denounced as flirting with Marxism.

At a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007, Bergoglio offered that, "We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. 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."

Like his predecessor Pope Benedict, who resigned last month – the first head of the Catholic church to do so in 600 years – Pope Francis is said to be a strict conservative on personal morality. He has opposed Argentina’s gay marriage laws, and has been fiercely pro-family. In church terms, though, he is seen as a master conciliator who will be adroit at healing many of the rifts and scandals over finances and pedophile priests that have dogged the Vatican in recent years.

Since 1998 he has been the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The conclave appeared to steer away from popular choices like the cardinals of New York and Boston, Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley, as well as the local Italian favorite Angelo Scola.

Bergoglio was elected by a conclave that overwhelmingly shares the conservative views of Benedict, who has held sway as an enforcer of orthodoxy in the Vatican since 1982.

As Mr. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter writes, “Either John Paul II or Benedict XVI appointed each of the ... cardinals who will cast a ballot, including 11 Americans, so there will be little ideological clash. No matter what happens, the church almost certainly won't reverse its bans on abortion, gay marriage or women priests.”

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