|Pope Francis greets the crowd from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome|
The election last week of Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the Catholic Church’s 266th pope surprised many, and Polish church officials were no exception.
“I don’t know him at all,” Polish Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek said of Mr Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, in an interview with news station TVN24. “He’s from outside Europe, and he’s a Jesuit. It could mean that changes [to the Catholic Church] are coming.”
Though surprise was most Vatican-watchers’ initial reaction, a look back at the last conclave, in which Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, could have given a clue to how the cardinals would vote this time. Reportedly, Cardinal Bergoglio came in second to Cardinal Ratzinger – who became Pope Benedict XVI – back in 2005.
Catholics in Poland and around the world now await the first South American pope’s first actions, to see how this member of the Jesuit order (he is also the first Jesuit to become pope) will lead the gigantic but scandal-laden Catholic Church.
Vatican experts in Poland praised the choice, hoping Pope Francis could reform the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s administrative body. “It’s a clear signal that cardinals expect changes, fresh blood and new ideas,” said Artur Sporniak, a journalist from Tygodnik Powszechny, in an interview with radio station TOK FM.
“They’ve made it clear that they want someone from outside the system to reign over Catholic Church,” he added.
However, others were more skeptical. Father Kazimierz Sowa, director of religious TV station Religia.tv, told radio station Radio Zet that he doesn’t expect a revolution.
“The balance of power might shift a little bit, and some interesting personnel changes in the Curia might occur,” he said.
Polish President Bronisław Komorowski sent a congratulatory note to the Vatican, wishing the new pontiff “great strength in fulfilling his new and very important mission, not only for the Catholic Church, but also the whole world.” He also invited the newly elected pope to visit Poland.
Reactions in Pope Francis’ home country were mixed. Many people celebrated in the streets, almost as if their team had won the World Cup. However, Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was subdued in her congratulations: “On behalf of myself and of the Argentine government, and on behalf of the people of our country, I want to salute you and express my congratulations on your election as the new Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church,” she wrote in a statement.
Ms Kirchner’s reserved remarks likely stem from the fact that Mr Bergoglio, who was then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, strongly opposed her decision in 2010 to legalize same-sex marriage. “This is no mere legislative bill. It is a move by the father of lies to confuse and deceive the children of God,” he said at the time.
Some allegations from the new pope’s past have begun to surface again. Some claim he cooperated with the military regime ruling Argentina in the 1970s, which kidnapped and killed thousands of people. Two Jesuit priests were kidnapped by the regime, reportedly after Mr Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection of them. A spokesperson for the new pope called the accusations “old slander.”
Under Mr Bergoglio’s leadership, Argentina’s bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church’s failures to protect its flock. However the statement blamed the violence of the time roughly equally on both the junta and its enemies.
“Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn’t forget that side,” his official biographer Sergio Rubin said.
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