BUENOS AIRES – Jorge Mario Bergoglio – not an Italian, not a European, but a Latin American from Argentina – has now been chosen as the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. What, if anything, can Latin America expect from Pope Francis I?
For starters, it seems clear that Francis will try to assert political influence in the region, rather in the manner that Pope John Paul II used his authority in his native Poland and Central Europe in the decade leading up to the fall of communism. A former Jesuit, Bergoglio was raised in a religious order – founded in the sixteenth century to oppose the Protestant Reformation – that is known for its power inside the church and its desire for wider political influence. So it is no surprise that Bergoglio has always considered politics, even from a religious point of view, as central to his work.
For example, he has been very vocal in voicing discontent with the rule of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and that of her husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner. He was active in helping to create a coalition of opposition parties to balance the overwhelming power of Kirchnerism, which has steadily been gaining power over Argentina’s parliament, judiciary, and independent media.
Indeed, Néstor Kirchner once accused Bergoglio of being the head of the opposition coalition, and refused to attend a traditional mass – a Te Deum – because he was afraid that he would be the subject of the then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s sermon. He memorably declared that the church belongs to everyone, and that the devil sometime wears a cassock.