In choosing Bergoglio, the cardinals opted against front-runner Angelo Scola, who was considered an Italian echo of Benedict, and a handful of prelates from North America, including New York and Boston, who for the first time generated real buzz. But it did look across the Atlantic. Now there is the question whether the bureaucracy that governs the church, many say badly, will reflect that internationalism or provide an Italian counterweight to it.
Although the church has increasingly staffed its bureaucracy with foreign department heads, true control over the Holy See’s purse strings and power has rested with Europeans, most of whom are Italian. Bergoglio was born to Italian immigrant parents, but he maintains an outsider status that sends a strong signal, analysts and insiders say, that change has finally come.
Argentine Jorge Bergoglio has been elected pope, the first ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name Pope Francis.
But the unassuming Argentine will have his work cut out for him.
The Roman Curia, as the pope’s court is called, is riddled with entrenched interests and is historically resistant to reform. Many observers, including some cardinals, believe that the intransigence and political infighting of the Curia overwhelmed Benedict and hastened his departure. Bergoglio doesn’t have a reputation as a commanding manager, and his gracious manner is already sowing the seeds of concern.
But Francis’s humble ethos is matched with an unerring conservatism that is closer in substance to Benedict. The archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998 and a cardinal since 2001, he has excoriated gay marriage efforts in Argentina, dismissed the notion of the ordination of women, opposed left-wing liberation theology and been accused of failing to stand up to, and in some cases collaborating with, the feared military junta.
Outside Rome, the Latin world is far from the only area of concern for the church. Secularism is surging in Europe and North America, where the church is still reeling from a sex-abuse scandal. Islam is spreading, and persecution is a reality for Christians in the Middle East and Africa.
All those challenges may have weighed on Bergoglio as he neared the conclave that would thrust him into history.
On Sunday, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, bumped into Bergoglio as he was walking alone by Piazza Navona, wearing a simple black cassock.
“I want you to pray for me,” he told Rosica. “I’m a little nervous right now.”