Pope Francis I is the first non-European pope in well over 1,000 years and the first pope to serve from Latin America, which stirred both surprise and delight across the Americas, but his selection is not without controversy.
Pope Francis I was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in a middle-class family of seven, the son of an Italian immigrant railway worker. As reported by The Inquisitr, Pope Francis I lost a lung nearly ten years before becoming a priest at age 32. He lead the local Jesuit community within four years and was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992. By 1998, he became the archbishop.
Pope Francis I was head of the Jesuit order during the years of a military dictatorship that held on to power from 1976 to 1983. The Church’s reputation was severely damaged after failing to challenge the regime, one that kidnapped and killed up to 30,000 suspected leftists. When the Church did apologize for failing to protect its people or condemn their oppressors, it blamed both the regime and its enemies. Pope Francis I was accused of ignoring the plight of victims even after hearing firsthand accounts of kidnapping, torture, and death.
“Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn’t forget that side,” Sergio Rubin, Pope Francis I’s official biographer, said in the Buenos Aires Herald.
Locals considered Pope Francis I to be a theological conservative and a modest man. Rather than live in the archbishop’s luxurious residence, he chose to reside in a simple apartment and traveled by bus. When he was appointed a cardinal in 2001, he persuaded hundreds of Argentines not to fly to Rome to celebrate with him. Instead, he encouraged them to donate to the poor the money they intended to spend on plane tickets. When it comes to issues of sexuality and tending to the poor, Pope Francis I does not veer from the Catholic Church’s standard line.
Pope Francis I opposes same-sex marriage and lobbied unsuccessfully against Argentina’s same-sex marriage law, which was passed in 2010. He opposes abortion and euthanasia and has described the pro-choice movement as a “culture of death.”
Pope Francis I’s election was not a surprise to everyone; the Argentine native was a runner up in the 2005 conclave that elected German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to become Pope Benedict XVI. Yet many began to write off the candidate because eight years have passed, and at 76 Pope Francis I has passed the ideal age to replace a pope who resigned largely because he was old.
Pope Francis I’s election acknowledges that Latin America has the world’s largest number of Catholics, but many Latin Americans are leaving the Church just as Europeans are. More than two-third of Argentines identify as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent attend mass. Many became jaded after the Church passively witnessed past atrocities, and many in the country are aware how the Catholic Church feels about its same-sex marriage law. Pope Francis I comes with great symbolic importance, but he also brings along a unique set of critics and controversy.