White smoke billowing from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel today (14 March 2013) indicated that a new pope has been elected: “Habemus Papam!”
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, has been elected pope and has taken the title of Francis. Bergoglio is a Jesuit who has now become the first pope ever from Latin America.
The election of a Latin American pope in some ways represents a historic shift in the Catholic Church, the majority of whose members now reside in the “Global South” of Latin America, Africa, and Asia—rather than in Europe and North America.
Update: Criticisms of the new pope have emerged, stemming from Bergoglio’s work as a Jesuit in Argentina during the Dirty War of the 1970s. An Argentine journalist accuses Bergoglio of complicity in the abduction and interrogation of two Jesuits by the Argentine military, according to the BBC. The journalist, Horacio Verbitsky, was interviewed recently by Democracy Now.
The Vatican officially denies the allegations, as the BBC reports. An article in the Washington Post considers Bergoglio’s actions during the Dirty War. An article in HNN cautions against judging Bergoglio’s actions harshly based on the evidence unearthed so far.
Additional criticisms of the new pope have surfaced regarding his handling of sexual abuse cases involving pedophile priests in the archdiocese of Buenos Aires. The Washington Post reports on this story.
On 19 March, Pope Francis was officially inaugurated in an open-air mass in the Vatican City. The Washington Post reports that “The Catholic Church officially inaugurated Pope Francis as its first Latin American and Jesuit pontiff on Tuesday morning. More than 150,000 faithful, joined by leaders from much of the secular and spiritual world, watched as the humble and hopeful Argentine was vested with the trappings of authority at an open-air Mass in St. Peter’s Square.”
Latin Americanists, scholars of human rights issues, and historians of civil conflict will want to investigate these allegations and the broader context of the Dirty War.