Argentina’s Congress broke into a fight when Bergoglio was announced as pope

March 13, 2013

This Aug. 7, 2009 file photo shows Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio giving a mass outside the San Cayetano church in Buenos Aires. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, files)

Jorge Mario Bergoglio is Argentine, so, when he was elected pope today, the reaction in Argentina was naturally exuberant. Despite that, the news actually caused a fracas to break out in the Chamber of Deputies, which is the lower house of Argentina's national congress.

The incident is reported in Clarín, Argentina's largest newspaper, and collected by Foreign Policy's Uri Friedman, who has a great post looking at the Argentine media's reactions to Bergolgio's selection.

The dispute had to do with whether or not the legislators should drop what they were doing when the news came in and listen to Bergoglio's remarks. Normally, that would seem to be an easy choice. But they were in the middle of a ceremony to mark the death of fellow Latin American leader Hugo Chavez.

The Chamber of Deputies, you see, is held by a coalition led by the party Front for Victory. That party is left-leaning; not as far left as Chavez, but far enough that its members apparently took the ceremony seriously. The opposition party, which is right-leaning, was probably happy for an excuse to end the paean to Chavez early. The chamber devolved into a heated dispute about whether they should break from the ceremony. The ruling party, unsurprisingly, won out. The Chamber finished the ceremony before turning to Bergoglio.

The Catholic church, and to a lesser extent Bergoglio himself, were perceived in Argentina as sympathetic to the country's right-wing military junta, which ruled in the 1970s. That was decades ago, of course, but you can sometimes see hints of the war's bitter legacy in its left-right political divide.

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