March 14, 2013

Can Francis stem rising secular tide?

Like his predecessor, the Italian-Argentine is a fierce critic of socially progressive trends.

By ANTHONY FAIOLA The Washington Post

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Jorge Bergoglio
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Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, greets crowds outside San Cayetano church in Buenos Aires in 2009. The new pope is a staunch conservative and devout Jesuit.

The Associated Press

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"And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust," he said. "Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood."

Born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, Bergoglio was raised in a struggling middle class home of a railroad worker and housewife. Ordained a priest in 1969, his ascent toward higher office occurred during a time when the Catholic Church in Argentina stood accused of at best failing to speak out, and at worst being complicit, in the harsh right-wing dictatorships of the Dirty War that saw the disappearance of an estimated 30,000 dissidents between 1976 and 1983.

A book by the noted Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky, "The Silence," claims that Bergoglio, then a Jesuit leader, lifted church protection from two leftist priests of his order, effectively allowing them to be jailed for refusing to end their politically-charged ministry in Buenos Aires slums. Yet Bergoglio's supporters have cited a lack of evidence, countering that he endeavored to aid dissidents in danger during a dark period in Argentine history.

"History condemns him," Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires once said, according to Reuters. "It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the Church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cozy with the military."

One thing is certain, he rose fast. In 1992, John Paul II named him assistant bishop in Buenos Aires, then made him Archbishop five years later. He served on a number of Vatican commissions and in 2005 is widely believed to have come in second to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now the pope emeritus -- to succeed John Paul II.

But Bergoglio was mostly absent from the short lists for pope this time around, and has been largely seen as a Vatican outsider. That is seen as positive by reformers who are looking for a clean up of the Roman Curia, the Vatican City administration now battered by allegations of corruption and misconduct.

In recent years, Bergoglio became known for creating new parishes, reorganizing administrative offices spearheading a fiercely conservative social agenda. He has butted heads repeatedly with increasingly secular Argentine governments.

In 2006, he attacked a proposal to legalize abortion under certain circumstances by accusing the government of lacking respect for human life.

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