Another measure of Bergoglio’s seriousness as a candidate was the negative campaigning that swirled around him eight years ago.
Three days before the 2005 conclave, a human rights lawyer in Argentina filed a complaint charging Bergoglio with complicity in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests under the country’s military regime, a charge Bergoglio flatly denied. There was also an e-mail campaign, claiming to originate with fellow Jesuits who knew Bergoglio when he was the provincial of the order in Argentina, asserting that “he never smiled.”
All of that by way of saying, Bergoglio was definitely on the radar screen. Of course he’s eight years older now, and at 76 is probably outside the age window many cardinals would see as ideal. Further, the fact he couldn’t get over the hump last time may convince some cardinals there’s no point going back to the well.
That said, many of the reasons that led members of the college to take him seriously eight years ago are still in place.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio’s father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.
These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into “base communities” and political activism.
Although Jesuits generally are discouraged from receiving ecclesiastical honors and advancement, especially outside mission countries, Bergoglio was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and then succeeded the ailing Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in 1998. John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001, assigning him the Roman church named after the legendary Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmino.