Yesterday an anxious crowd of thousands of Roman Catholics waited patiently outside Saint Peter’s Square for the white smoke to come out of the Vatican’s chimney. When it finally, did more than one billion Catholics around the world were rejoiced. In only two days, the Princes of the Church were able to elect the next successor to occupy the chair of Peter.
The new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pronounced Ber-goal-io), will be called Francis I, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years and the first member of the Jesuit order to lead the church.
“Habemus papam!” members of the crowd shouted in Latin, waving umbrellas and flags. “We have a pope!” Others cried, “Viva il Papa!”
Francis is known as a humble man who spoke out for the poor and led an austere life in Buenos Aires. He was born to Italian immigrant parents and was raised in the Argentine capital.
The new pope inherits a church wrestling with an array of challenges that intensified during his predecessor, Benedict XVI, including a shortage of priests, alleged money laundering at the Vatican Bank, growing competition from evangelical churches in the Southern Hemisphere, a ring of gay priests, a pedophile crisis that has undermined the church’s moral authority in the West and difficulties governing the Vatican itself. The sexual abuse crisis remains a troubling issue for the church, especially in English-speaking countries where victims sued dioceses found to have moved around abusive priests.
On Wednesday, news reports in California showed that one cardinal elector, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles; the archdiocese; and a former priest had reached a settlement of almost $10 million in four child sex abuse cases, according to the victims’ lawyers.
The new pope will also inherit power struggles over the management of the Vatican bank, which must continue a process of meeting international transparency standards or risk being shut out of the mainstream international banking system. In one of his last acts as pope, Benedict appointed a German aristocrat, Ernst von Freyberg, as the bank’s new president.
A doctrinal conservative, Francis has opposed liberation theology, abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women, standing with his predecessor in holding largely traditional views.
He has been less energetic, however, in urging the Argentine church to examine its own behavior during the 1970s, when the country was consumed by a conflict between right and left. In what became known as the Dirty War, as many as 30,000 people were disappeared, tortured or killed by a military dictatorship that seized power in March 1976.
Already the international press is exposing the cooperation of Cardinal Bergoglio with the Argentinian military dictatorship. He knew that babies were being separated from their mothers, that murders were carried by the Military Junta, and that leftists were persecuted and incarcerated during the Argentinean “dirty war”, yet he did nothing to denounce this situation to the public at large. He has a lot of explaining to do, now that he leads the flock as a pope.
In a long interview with an Argentine newspaper in 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio defended his behavior during the dictatorship. He said that he had helped hide people being sought for arrest or disappearance by the military because of their political views, had helped others leave Argentina and had lobbied the country’s military rulers directly for the release and protection of others. Many victims say this is not true, that he is hiding many things in his closet.
After the dust settles down and the euphoria of the celebrations calm down, Francis will have to start cleaning up the mess left by his successor. He has a formidable work ahead to do if he wishes to calm the demons within the Roman Catholic Church, and his own controversial past in Argentina. Good Day.