Saturday 24 February 2018

Son of a railway worker known for his humility

Sam Marsden and John-Paul Ford Rojas

AT THE outset of the conclave, few Vatican watchers were even ranking him as the top Argentinian candidate. The 76-year-old had been overshadowed by his fellow countryman Leonardo Sandri, 69.

But having trailed second in every ballot to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, triumphed at the fifth ballot to choose his successor, becoming the first Jesuit to ascend to the throne of St Peter and the first from outside Europe.

Pope Francis has been a cardinal since 2001 and has won admirers for his humble style of life. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster, said: "For many people this may be a surprise election, but for me it is inspired and I am very very happy."

The son of a railway worker, the new Pope is a trained chemist. He has reportedly become less active in recent years due to his age and the effects of having a lung removed when he suffered an infection as a teenager.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he has spurned the trappings of the church, living in his own apartment.


"In favour of Bergoglio is his pastoral attitude – his relationship with the people," said Leandro Pastor, a friend of the new Pope for a quarter of a century. "He's a very simple man. He's very austere. And also, I think, he's an intelligent man and someone who is very good at communicating."

Like John Paul II (pictured with Bergoglio) and Benedict XVI, Francis I regards the Catholic Church's core values as under attack.

Msgr Osvaldo Musto, who was at seminary with him, said recently: "He's as uncompromising as 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. All of this will continue if Bergoglio is made Pope."

When Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio waged a high-profile campaign against the policy.

But the cardinal's influence stopped at the presidential palace door after Nestor Kirchner and then his wife, Cristina Kirchner, took over Argentina's government.

Sources close to Bergoglio reportedly said: "The relationship with Kirchner is not bad, it is awful."

The cardinal failed to prevent the Argentine Supreme Court expanding access to abortions in rape cases, and when he argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Mrs Kirchner Fernandez compared his tone to "the Inquisition".

Taking the reins of a church reeling from multiple failures to address scandals, Pope Francis brings his own baggage, having been accused of not standing up to abuses by Argentina's military junta.

Anger over the church's refusal to confront a regime that was kidnap-ping and killing thousands as it sought to eliminate "subversives" has diminished, but not been vanquished. More than two-thirds of Argentinians describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10pc regularly attend Mass.

Argentina's bishops issued an apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its followers, but the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

Jorge Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, spending the next two decades teaching in Jesuit schools and universities.

He was installed as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. The Jesuits have often been seen as an alternative power base to the papacy in the Catholic church. With the election of the first Jesuit pope, these two bases have been united for the first time in history.

Irish Independent

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