The following comes from a March 3 story by John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter.
ROME – While there are still no tracking polls to establish who’s got
legs as a papal candidate, the 2013 conclave at least has one
objective measure not available in 2005: past performance. Many of the
cardinals seen as candidates now were also on offer the last time
around, and someone who had traction eight years ago could be a
By that measure alone, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires,
Argentina, at least merits a look.
After the dust settled from the election of Benedict XVI, various
reports identified the Argentine Jesuit as the main challenger to
then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. One cardinal later said the conclave
had been “something of a horse race” between Ratzinger and Bergoglio,
and an anonymous conclave diary splashed across the Italian media in
September 2005 claimed that Bergoglio received 40 votes on the third
ballot, just before Ratzinger crossed the two-thirds threshold and
Though it’s hard to say how seriously one should take the specifics,
the general consensus is that Bergoglio was indeed the “runner-up”
last time around. He appealed to conservatives in the College of
Cardinals as a man who had held the line against liberalizing currents
among the Jesuits, and to moderates as a symbol of the church’s
commitment to the developing world.
Back in 2005, Bergoglio drew high marks as an accomplished
intellectual, having studied theology in Germany. His leading role
during the Argentine economic crisis burnished his reputation as a
voice of conscience, and made him a potent symbol of the costs
globalization can impose on the world’s poor.
Bergoglio’s reputation for personal simplicity also exercised an
undeniable appeal – a Prince of the Church who chose to live in a
simple apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, who gave up his
chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work, and who
cooked his own meals.
Another measure of Bergoglio’s seriousness as a candidate was the
negative campaigning that swirled around him eight years ago.
Three days before the 2005 conclave, a human rights lawyer in
Argentina filed a complaint charging Bergoglio with complicity in the
1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests under the country’s
military regime, a charge Bergoglio flatly denied. There was also an
e-mail campaign, claiming to originate with fellow Jesuits who knew
Bergoglio when he was the provincial of the order in Argentina,
asserting that “he never smiled.”
All of that by way of saying, Bergoglio was definitely on the radar
screen. Of course he’s eight years older now, and at 76 is probably
outside the age window many cardinals would see as ideal. Further, the
fact he couldn’t get over the hump last time may convince some
cardinals there’s no point going back to the well.
That said, many of the reasons that led members of the college to take
him seriously eight years ago are still in place.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio’s father was an Italian
immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has
four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but
in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for
the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature,
psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star.
From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina,
then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had
These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many
priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the
progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial,
Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian
spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and
act as chaplains rather than moving into “base communities” and
Although Jesuits generally are discouraged from receiving
ecclesiastical honors and advancement, especially outside mission
countries, Bergoglio was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in
1992 and then succeeded the ailing Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in
1998. John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001, assigning him
the Roman church named after the legendary Jesuit St. Robert
Over the years, Bergoglio became close to the Comunione e Liberazione
movement founded by Italian Fr. Luigi Giussani, sometimes speaking at
its massive annual gathering in Rimini, Italy. He’s also presented
Giussani’s books at literary fairs in Argentina. This occasionally
generated consternation within the Jesuits, since the ciellini once
upon a time were seen as the main opposition to Bergoglio’s fellow
Jesuit in Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.
On the other hand, that’s also part of Bergoglio’s appeal, someone who
personally straddles the divide between the Jesuits and the ciellini,
and more broadly, between liberals and conservatives in the church.
Bergoglio has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American
Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.
“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the
most yet reduced misery the least,” Bergoglio said during a gathering
of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods
persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven
and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our
At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal
holiness over efforts for structural reform.
Bergoglio is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual
morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and
contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of
discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from
Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Nevertheless, he has shown deep compassion for the victims of
HIV-AIDS; in 2001, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of
12 AIDS patients.
Bergoglio also won high marks for his compassionate response to the
1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the
Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the
Argentine Jewish Association. It was one of the worst anti-Jewish
attacks ever in Latin America, and in 2005 Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of
the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart
University in Fairfield, Connecticut, praised Bergoglio’s leadership.
“He was very concerned with what happened, Ehrenkranz said. “He’s got
Nevertheless, after the conclave of 2005 some cardinals candidly
admitted to doubts that Bergoglio really had the steel and “fire in
the belly” needed to lead the universal church. Moreover, for most of
the non-Latin Americans, Bergoglio was an unknown quantity. A handful
remembered his leadership in the 2001 Synod of Bishops, when Bergoglio
replaced Cardinal Edward Egan of New York as the relator, or chairman,
of the meeting after Egan went home to help New Yorkers cope with the
9/11 terrorist attacks. In that setting, Bergoglio left a basically
positive but indistinct impression.
Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he’s no
defender of clerical privilege, or insensitive to pastoral realities.
In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who
refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of
“rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.”
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