Dear Commons Community,
The world media has been waiting this week for the College of Cardinals to elect a new pope. Yesterday, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected and will be called Pope Francis. He is the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years and the first member of the Jesuit order to lead the church. In choosing Francis, who had been the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the cardinals sent a message that the future of the church lies in the global south, home to the bulk of the world’s Catholics. He was born to Italian immigrant parents and was raised in the Argentine capital.
The good news is that Pope Francis appears to be a man of the people who is genuinely interested in the poor of the world. The New York Times reports that:
“Francis is known as a humble man who spoke out for the poor and led an austere life in Buenos Aires. President Barack Obama said “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years — that in each other we see the face of God,”
The bad news is that he is a staunch conservative on religious doctrine and opposes abortion, gay rights, and expanding the role of women in the church. As archbishop of Buenos Aires beginning in 1998 and a cardinal since 2001, he frequently tangled with Argentina’s governments over social issues. In 2010, for example, he castigated a government-supported law to legalize marriage and adoption by same-sex couples as “a war against God.”
In sum, Catholics will take the good with the bad and support their new leader. He will have great appeal in South America, Africa and Asia but will be seen as a representative of traditional conservatism in the United States and Europe.