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Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: a profile

By on Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Pope Francis prior to his election  (Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis prior to his election (Photo: CNS)

For a fuller profile from The Catholic Herald archives, go here.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has had a growing reputation as a very spiritual man with a talent for pastoral leadership serving in a region with the largest number of the world’s Catholics.

Since 1998, he has been archbishop of Buenos Aires, where his style is low-key and close to the people.

He rides the bus, visits the poor, lives in a simple apartment and cooks his own meals. To many in Buenos Aires, he is known simply as “Father Jorge.”

He also has created new parishes, restructured the administrative offices, led pro-life initiatives and started new pastoral programs, such as a commission for divorcees. He co-presided over the 2001 Synod of Bishops and was elected to the synod council, so he is well-known to the world’s bishops.

The cardinal has also written books on spirituality and meditation and has been outspoken against abortion and same-sex marriages.

In 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Cardinal Bergoglio encouraged clergy across the country to tell Catholics to protest against the legislation because, if enacted, it could “seriously injure the family,” he said.

He also said adoption by same-sex couples would result in “depriving (children) of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.”

In 2006, he criticized an Argentine proposal to legalize abortion under certain circumstances as part of a wide-ranging legal reform. He accused the government of lacking respect for the values held by the majority of Argentines and of trying to convince the Catholic Church “to waver in our defense of the dignity of the person.”

His role often forced him to speak publicly about the economic, social and political problems facing his country. His homilies and speeches are filled with references to the fact that all people are brothers and sisters and that the church and the country need to do what they can to make sure that everyone feels welcome, respected and cared for.

While not overtly political, Cardinal Bergoglio has not tried to hide the political and social impact of the Gospel message, particularly in a country still recovering from a serious economic crisis.

Since becoming archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, Cardinal Bergoglio has created new parishes, restructured the administrative offices, taken personal care of the seminary and started new pastoral projects, such as the commission for divorcees. He has mediated in almost all social or political conflicts in the city; the newly ordained priests are described as “the Bergoglio generation”; and no political or social figure misses requesting a private encounter with him.

Jorge Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, Dec. 17, 1936.

He studied and received a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest and studied at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto.

He studied liberal arts in Santiago, Chile, and in 1960 earned a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Between 1964 and 1965 he was a teacher of literature and psychology at Inmaculada high school in the province of Santa Fe, and in 1966 he taught the same courses at the prestigious Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires.

In 1967, he returned to his theological studies and was ordained a priest Dec. 13, 1969. After his perpetual profession as a Jesuit in 1973, he became master of novices at the Seminary of Villa Barilari in San Miguel. Later that same year, he was elected superior of the Jesuit province of Argentina.

In 1980, he returned to San Miguel as a teacher at the Jesuit school, a job rarely taken by a former provincial superior. In May 1992 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. He was one of three auxiliaries and he kept a low profile, spending most of his time caring for the Catholic university, counseling priests and preaching and hearing confessions.

On June 3, 1997, he was named coadjutor archbishop. He was installed as the new archbishop of Buenos Aires Feb. 28, 1998.

Some controversy had arisen over the position taken by Cardinal Bergoglio during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which cracked down brutally on political opponents. Estimates of the number of people killed and forcibly disappeared during those years range from about 13,000 to more than 30,000.

Citing a case in which two young priests were detained by the military regime, critics say that the cardinal, who was Jesuit provincial at the time, did not do enough to support church workers against the military dictatorship.

Others, however, have said that he attempted to negotiate behind the scenes for the priests’ release, and a spokesman for the cardinal, quoted in the daily newspaper La Nacion, called the accusation “old slander.”

  • Donnachadh McCarthy

    Lets hope the new Pope will focus on poverty issues rather than the recent obsession on sexuality. 

    I am hopeful his chosen name of Francesco indicates a move in that direction.

    Having an advocate of social justice would be very welcome.

    But in relation to hiv, it would be better if it stopped its weird stance on condoms to prevent hiv rather than treating it.

  • Fourth norn

    On condoms, I shouldn’t be surprised if there was a softening of the Vatican message. Some of the things said by African bishops have been just bizarre. I can only reiterate that it is strange to accuse the Church of an obsession with sex in a secular society saturated with it. That social obsession jeopardises the Church’s mission to the poor, because people concentrate on any message about contraceptives, abortion and homosexuality and ignore the tough messages about justice.

  • W Lewis513

    The chruch DOES NOT support hatred of homosectual people. The chuch is fully inclusive, WE AREALL SiNNERS. Why is it that htese people seem to be different , they do not acknlwldge teaching of  Christ. But they seem to appear to be Super Inclusive if you are not “gay” you are out. They are most intolerant.

  • scary goat

     Me too….I am feeling a bit like that.  We will get used to it I suppose….and time will tell.

  • scary goat

     I still don’t know what to think.  The view here seems to be generally optimistic, and the view there seems to be less so.  From what I’ve read so far (minimal) he seems to have some quite positive characteristics…and a few rather worrying ones.  Time will tell, I suppose. Let’s wait and see….although somehow I haven’t managed to feel very joyful yet….maybe still not quite finished mourning for Benedict.

  • Melissa

    Catholics welcome all people into the church, including Gays. But it is God’s word that denounces Gay marriages.  It is the act of Gays, which wastes the seed that God intended to make life with.  Catholics and Christians alike should love all people but they stand by God’s word.  That is what Christians are suppose to do.  Live by the word of God and not what is politically correct to make a minority group feel “equal”.  But love, we absolutely should do. As Jesus loved even the sinners, it didn’t mean he agreed with their acts.  God Bless you.

  • Annica

    Yes – this is what people keep saying….Let’s hope, but as you say: time will tell. It’s so strange, though: when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, I was  just over the moon even though John Paul II had meant so much to me. But he had passed away…This is weird: I mean mourning a person who is still alive…..

  • Leigh

    He was a member, or supporter, of the ideas of Communio. This is a Catholic theological journal founded in 1972, by the then Joseph Ratzinger and some other high flyers. Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul ll, was also a supporter.  

    Pope Francis, as I understand it, was against Liberation Theology in the sense that it used Marxist political ideology and fused it with the Gospel. It created a political tool; a religious distortion. That doesn’t mean he is against the idea of the Gospel liberating someone through God, where the focus should be.
    Wikipedia is changed by anyone that has an account to alter things. Its not an ideal and 100% reliable source.

  • Leigh

    Episcopal church, like all the churches that have been overrun with an imbalance of liberal input, are dying fast. Indeed, if you ask questions life gets difficult. Problem is they’re revisionist –  they adapt the texts and ideas so much its all a bit flimsy. Everyone can see this to the point were they know these denominations create their own Bible and God. Just depends, if they stay or not, on how much they need to cling to the lie these churches tell. In 100 years the Episcopal church will probably be marrying multiple people on the altar as polygamy (or some other setup) gets feed through its system. In 200 years or less they’ll be at about the same point as the Unitarians (or UU’s in America), that’s if they last that long. I expect some of these churches will merge i.e URC, Methodist and CofE

  • Leigh

    A bonus, I expect, is that Pope Francis is so gracious he will work with Benedict XVI to do all the work necessary. But it will give Benedict XVI more time to rest; a flexible involvement. This is likely to be behind the scenes. But the fact that Benedict will remain close to the Vatican and still have a secretarial aid with the Pope makes me even more sure of this. Two minds like these two can do great things. 

  • Leigh

    If ones brother has an impulse to Gamble, because they love doing it and see no problem, but their own sister refuses to give them money to do so, because they disapprove of Gambling, then does that mean the sister hates the brother? Should she give up her money because her brother shouts, screams and protests a great injustice. Does she stop him Gambling with his own money?

    Likewise I feel people gamble with their own souls but I won’t facilitate  or pave the way for something I don’t think is helpful to them, or anyone else. But they can do it if they want of their own will.  

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    PERSONALLY I don’t think our Pope will hate the GAYS and the kind, but certainly the sin they are promoting and presenting as O.K. for true life as planned and presented to mankind in Jesus the Lord.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    PLEASE go and find out what JESUS THE LORD has said about human traditions.

    Jesus the Lord and given us also a sure and certain Principle for our guidance, “By their fruit you shall know them”.

    Dividing people in terms of white and black, progressive and conservative, orthododox and heterodox etc and etc. and what not, what good it does for the Proclamation of God’s Word of Salvation?

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Julian Lord

    Leviticus, which also among a host of other things advocates murder of disobedient children and approves of slavery and bigamy


    That’s just anti-Bible propaganda.

    Leviticus established the possibility of a death penalty for rebellious ADULT offspring — and this should be read in context, which clearly establishes that “rebellious” doesn’t mean just “disobedient”, it means that these are adult sons who were squandering the family fortune in the pursuit of their own personal immoral lifestyles. Clearly this is a tribal law, and is of no bearing whatsoever to the legal situations of 21st century.

    It does NOT “approve” of slavery, it describes it as being preferable to genocide.

    Finally, the OT never “approves” of bigamy either, the tale of Abraham shows among other things how a polygamous state of affairs was forced upon him, and every biblical story that I can think of offhand involving men with several wives is either illustrative of a general disapproval of the practice, or is simply descriptive. I cannot think offhand of a single biblical story praising bigamy.

  • FuquaySteve

    Yes, do away with those pesky traditionalists, the church has been so much better with guitar masses, no tabernacles easily identified, relaxing the need for confession and all other sacraments, and those Eucharistic ministers distributes The Body with such efficiency especially when the breadline is long. There certainly is no room for Adoration and reverence in this modern, there is no right or wrong, good or evil, virtue or sin, church -otherwise we’d be accused of dividing. Good luck with that.

  • Jon Brownridge

    “…and is of no bearing whatsoever to the legal situations of 21st century”.

    I am so happy to see you using this phrase in reference to a biblical quotation. So much of the bible, including the New Testament, has no bearing to the legal situation of this century, including the legal place of women in society. Surely we can surmise that Christ would have wanted us to adapt his teaching to the realities of our world today. That should prompt us to at least reopen discussions about the ordination of women.

  • patrickjolawyer

    Until a few weeks ago I used to amuse myself by browsing my football club’s fans’ website. This one is much more fun. The ‘manager’ has been chosen by the Holy Spirit so unlike in the case of the likes of Rafa Benitez or Roberto Mancini you can protest all you like but he is secure in his position until the Holy Spirit tells him to resign or he is called by the Lord.

  • patrickjolawyer

    I can’t help laughing my socks off that the otherwise most unquestioning of rigid Catholic doctrine are the most sceptical of the Holy Spirit’s choice. The silence of Benedict Carter and Doctor William Oddie (neither of whom I had heard of until a few weeks ago but whose musings have provided me with rich amusement since) is quite deafening.

  • C S

    God simply looks away from all sorts of whacked unions in the Bible though, doesn’t He? King David and King Solomon (the latter having hundreds, I believe.” Who did rebuild that temple? When it comes to a loving, committed relationship between two people of the same sex though, he wants to step in. lol! Oh, and these poor people with “forced polygamy.” The Bible happened in a context…a historical one. This Pope might have done many good things in his life, but his ideas on this are dead wrong. By the way, follow the main part of the Bible, which is love. Judging is wrong. Abomination wasn’t the original word. I would have to find it, but the original word meant something against custom or tradition.

    From the “For the Bible Tells Me So”–I love this line.

    “When people ask questions about homosexuality, almost always they
    follow with, ‘and what does the Bible really say about it?’ There’s
    nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of God, as long as you’re
    in the fifth grade,” says Reverend Dr Laurence Keene.

  • C S

    You are way more on the right track then this person you are talking to. Good job! I read what you said. :)

  • mary

    read the book of Romans. It is very specific!

  • Jon Brownridge

    “…the worldwide epidemic of priestly child rape and sex abuse”.

    The media have certainly gone out of their way to create the impression that there is such a worldwide epidemic – but it is a false impression. The number of priests involved in sex scandal is extremely small compared to the total number of ordained priests over the 55-year period under consideration. It does not begin to compare to other groups in contact with children – teachers, sports officials, parents, etc. The media persistently and deliberately neglect to make it clear that the number of abuse cases investigated does not equate to the number of perpetrators. Jimmy Saville is thought to be responsible for more than 300 cases and the same applies to many of the priests who have been convicted. Also, over 55 years, close to a million priests have been ordained worldwide. A Federal review group in the USA recently announced that of all groups in contact with children, priests are by far the safest.

  • Jon Brownridge

    So many people mistakenly believe that the Church’s position on contraception is some kind of rule ‘Attend Mass on Sunday’ or ‘abstain from meat on Good Friday’. It is not a Church rule that can be changed, it is a moral position. The Church can no more say go ahead and use contraception than it can say go ahead and steal, lie, and cheat if it’s convenient for you to do so. Having said that, however, I do think moral theologians need to rethink that moral position which is partly based on a misunderstanding of biology. Until the invention of the microscope, it was believed that sperm cells were actually tiny, intact human beings. To destroy or waste them, therefore, was thought to be murder. We know now that this is ridiculous and perhaps the moral position needs to be updated.

  • C S

    Use your mind instead of citing something you likely haven’t read well yourself. I can tell.

  • mary

    read Romans and 1st Correntians BOTH specfically prohibit homosexual acts and speaks particularlly of sodomy. Do not try to mislead people about what is or is not in the bible. It is too easy to check it. Just go read those two letters for yourself. They are not long nor difficult to read.

    As for myself, I have read the bible from beginning to end many times and in several translations and versions, including in Koinon, first century Greek in which it was originally written. I know what is and is not in it. ;-)

  • mary

    Sin, including the sin of murdering a baby, is never a “philosophical matter”

    I would hope the roman church would never make a determination that murder (abortion) is acceptable. You see when you try to change terminology and find other names for a sin, you try to fool yourself. Murder is a sin and the term Abortion simply a replacement word that carries less emotion.

  • Jen

    I was just reading this and wanted to make a comment about the ordination of women. In our society, if you are from the US, in particular women have only recently been given rights, in the last 100 years. The reason that there is no chance of women getting ordained is because of all of the problems it would cause in countries where women still do not have rights. It is for the best of the Catholic community not to ordain women at this point in time in order to keep us united. Don’t get me wrong, some day I would love to see women ordained, but you have to look at the world view to understand why that is not much of an option right now. It would cause a huge tear in the whole of the Catholic community. Just my two sense

  • Jen

    I was just reading this and wanted to make a comment about the ordination of women. In our society, if you are from the US, in particular women have only recently been given rights, in the last 100 years. The reason that there is no chance of women getting ordained is because of all of the problems it would cause in countries where women still do not have rights. It is for the best of the Catholic community not to ordain women at this point in time in order to keep us united. Don’t get me wrong, some day I would love to see women ordained, but you have to look at the world view to understand why that is not much of an option right now. It would cause a huge tear in the whole of the Catholic community. Just my two sense