Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires now is Pope Francis I, the first pontiff from the Americas and the first Jesuit (considered to be a scholarly order, the Mensa set of the Roman collar crowd).
Needless to say, even though he was the runner-up to Pope Benedict in 2005, Bergoglio was not the favorite in most papal brackets.
But apparently God and papal elections work in mysterious and mystical ways … complete with first black and then white smoke if not mirrors.
God had better be on Francis’ side. Being pope today is not an angelic existence, even though he always wears white.
With the Roman Catholic church rocked by a tumultuous period of sex scandal, mismanagement and irrelevance reflected by a rising tide of secularism in Europe and western nations, it’s not surprising that the papal power shift tilted to South America, where the flock still is fertile and as reverent as a church organ sprinkled with holy water.
Granted, Francis is another golden oldie, checking in at ripe 76. And, of course, he opposes same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be pope. Thou shalt not be a liberal is the 11th commandment that Moses apparently overlooked.
The pope’s primary job is to be a good shepherd, and reportedly Francis brings a strong pastoral sensibility to the church.
He may be a tad uncomfortable living in the opulence of the Vatican.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he rode the bus to work, did his own cooking and visited the poor in Argentine slums. Instead of living in an archbishop’s palace, he chose to live in a small room in a downtown Buenos Aires home.
His choice of name harkens back to St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century friar who founded the Franciscan order and who was a man of simplicity and humility, as well as St. Francis Xavier, a 16th century priest who founded the Jesuit order.
It is speculated that his name selection was not in any way connected to Francis the Talking Mule who starred with Donald O’Connor in a string of 1950s movies.
The election of Pope Francis has resurfaced a decades-old controversy surrounding the kidnappings of two Jesuit priests.
Bergoglio was a high-ranking official in the Society of Jesus of Argentina when a military junta was installed in the South American country in 1976. Two priests were kidnapped that year by the navy and a 2005 lawsuit accused Bergoglio of unspecified involvement in the abductions.
Those who defend Bergoglio say there is no proof behind these claims and, on the contrary, they say the priest helped many dissidents escape during the military junta’s rule.
The sniff of scandal seems to waft like incense around church leaders these days, but apparently Francis has not been tainted by any sex scandal allegations.