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In choosing Francis, the cardinals clearly decided that they didn’t need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades but rather a seasoned, popular and humble pastor who would draw followers to the faith and help rebuild a church stained by scandal.
Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
Popes of the 20th and 21st centuries
Pope Francis — March 13, 2013-
Benedict XVI — April 19, 2005-Feb. 28, 2013.
John Paul II — Oct. 16, 1978-April 2, 2005.
John Paul I — Aug. 26-Sept. 28, 1978.
Paul VI — June 21, 1963-Aug. 6, 1978.
John XXIII — Oct. 28, 1958-June 3, 1963.
Pius XII — March 2, 1939-Oct. 9, 1958.
Pius XI — Feb. 6, 1922-Feb. 10, 1939.
Benedict XV — Sept. 3, 1914-Jan. 22, 1922.
Pius X — Aug. 4, 1903-Aug. 20, 1914.
Leo XIII — Feb. 20, 1878-July 20, 1903.
In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, Bergoglio has also shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.
Bergoglio’s legacy includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina’s murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. His own record as the head of the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time has been tarnished as well.
Many Argentines remain angry over the church’s acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in society. It’s one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend Mass.
Under Bergoglio’s leadership, Argentina’s bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church’s failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era’s violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.
"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," Rubin said.
Bergoglio’s own role in the so-called Dirty War has been the subject of controversy.
At least two court cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. One accused Bergoglio of effectively handing him over to the junta.
Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that Bergoglio himself could say Mass in the junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for a 2010 biography.
Rubin said failing to challenge the dictators was simply pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed, and attributed Bergoglio’s later reluctance to share his side of the story as a reflection of his humility.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially on Tuesday, according to the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
One of his first foreign trips is expected to be World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July, an event that will likely energize the continent given their native son will be presiding.
Lombardi, also a Jesuit, said he was particularly stunned by the election given that Jesuits typically shun positions of authority in the church, instead offering their work in service to those in power.
But Lombardi said that in accepting the election, Francis must have felt it "a strong call to service," an antidote to all those who speculated that the papacy was about a search for power.
New York Cardinal Dolan gave an inside glimpse into the drama of the conclave, saying that when the tally reached the necessary 77 votes to make Bergoglio pope, the cardinals erupted in applause. And when he accepted the momentous responsibility thrust upon him, "there wasn’t a dry eye in the place," the American cardinal recounted.
After the princes of the church had congratulated the new pope one by one, other Vatican officials wanted to do the same, but Francis preferred to go outside and greet the throngs of faithful. "Maybe we should go to the balcony first," Dolan recalled the pope as saying.
Later, the new pope shunned a special car and security detail provided to transport him to the Vatican hotel. He decided to stay with the cardinals.
"‘I’ll just go with the guys on the bus,’" Dolan quoted him as saying.
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