A Jesuit Named Francis!

by Michael Potemra

The new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was the runner-up to Ratzinger in 2005, and received relatively little buzz in the run-up to this conclave. Some speculated that his time had passed, though John Allen had a good rundown of his plus and minuses a few days ago.

The son of a working-class family, he has been the archbishop of Buenos Aires for 15 years. At 76, he can be expected to have not a long pontificate, but an eventful one — he is the outsider they have chosen to clean up the curial mess. An anonymous cardinal quoted in the Allen piece says that four years of Bergoglio would be enough to get the job done.

The choice of the name Francis is a wonderful gesture. Many people, in Italy, as elsewhere, love St. Francis of Assisi and Franciscan spirituality, and that was one reason for the boomlet for Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley in recent days. This Jesuit pope is sending a message: I want to be a pope in the line of St. Francis, a pope of whom Francis would approve.

Like Angelo Cardinal Scola, who was considered the front-runner going into this conclave, Bergoglio is affiliated with the powerful lay movement Communion and Liberation. A Jesuit, pro-Franciscan, pro-CL, he unites a lot of tendencies within the current church.

People who worry that, as a Jesuit, he might be too liberal, should relax: A very conservative Jesuit priest of my acquaintance, who is unhappy with the liberal direction of his order, has been telling me for weeks that he supports Bergoglio for pope. Bergoglio is a solid conservative on the hot-button social issues that agitate American laity, but that would have been true of just about any of the cardinals who might have been elected today. The story here is that he is an outsider who is the consensus choice to fix what’s wrong with the church administration, but all in a Franciscan spirit of love and humility, to wipe the face of the church so that its inner beauty can radiate. St. Francis was called to “rebuild the church” — Pope Francis will act in that spirit.