The College of Cardinals on Wednesday elected Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio as the Catholic Church’s next pope.
His election as the first Latin American pontiff took place less than two days after the papal conclave to choose Pope Benedict XVI’s successor began. The white smoke that symbolized Bergoglio’s election rose from a chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel shortly after 7 p.m. in Rome after the cardinals chose him on the fifth ballot.
Bergoglio, who took the name Francis I, was born in Buenos Aires to an Italian immigrant father in 1936.
He became archbishop of the Argentine capital in 1998.
Bergoglio, a Jesuit who was elected cardinal in 2001, was reportedly the runner-up in 2005 when the College of Cardinals elected Benedict to succeed Pope John Paul II. He is also among those who led the opposition to Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010.
“We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God,” he said before Argentine lawmakers passed it. “Here also is the envy of the devil through which sin entered the world, which deviously seeks to destroy the image of God, man and woman who have received the mandate to grow, reproduce and dominate the Earth.”
Esteban Paulon, president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Federation of Argentina, highlighted these statements against nuptials for gays and lesbians as he spoke about Bergoglio’s election from his home in Rosario.
“At least in terms of LGBT rights it was a clear signal that the church was radicalizing the discourse,” he told the Blade.
Fernández also criticized the now pope’s position on that issue–and his claim that adoption rights for gays and lesbians constitutes discrimination against children.
A human rights lawyer in 2005 accused Bergoglio, who has also described abortion as the “death penalty,” of conspiring with the country’s military junta to kidnap two Jesuit priests in 1976.
In spite of the aforementioned controversies, he has reached out to people with HIV/AIDS.
The National Catholic Reporter reported he kissed and washed the feet of 12 AIDS patients during a 2001 visit to a hospice.
“As a cardinal, this man who is now Pope Francis has said some pretty harsh things in the past,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a group for LGBT Catholics, told the Washington Blade. “We would hope that he recognizes that he is a pope for a church that includes lots of LGBT people and our families and that he would take the time to listen to us, to our experiences, to the experiences of kids who’ve been raised by same-sex parents before he starts making papal pronouncements on these issues and risks alienating even more people.”
Francis DiBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., echoed Duddy-Burke.
“As he begins his papacy, we request that Pope Francis make one of his top priorities the re-evaluation of the Catholic hierarchy’s approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues,” he said, referring to Francis’ statements against same-sex marriage and adoption rights for gays and lesbians. “We hope that in his new office, he will have the wisdom to hear all sides of these complex issues and that he will inject pastoral messages into his statements.”
Ryan Fecteau, a gay student at the Catholic University of America in D.C., also reacted to the new pope’s election.
“Though Pope Francis has expressed anti-gay sentiment in the past, he comes from a country that has legalized marriage for same-sex couples,” he told the Blade. “We must have optimism in knowing that the first Jesuit pope has witnessed the power of love without exception. And we must hope it has changed his views for the better.”
National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown is among those who welcome the pontiff’s opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio will follow in the steps of Pope Benedict XVI and provide a consistent and strong voice in support of marriage and children,” he said in a statement. “Our prayers go out to Pope Francis as he leads the world’s over 1 billion Catholics in the weeks, months, and years ahead.”
Italian newspapers reported in the days after Benedict’s surprise announcement that he announced his resignation on the same day he learned male prostitutes are blackmailing gay Vatican priests. La Repubblica said report also detailed an underground network of gay priests.
Argentines react to the new pope
Fernández congratulated Francis in a statement she issued shortly after the College of Cardinals elected him.
“It is our desire that you have, assuming the helm and guidance of the church… successfully carry out your extremely important pastoral charge in pursuit of justice, equality, fraternity and peace for mankind,” she said.
Paulon again highlighted to the Blade the role Francis played in the campaign against Argentina’s same-sex marriage law.
He also noted a sense of pride among Argentinians over his election.
“Of course in Argentina there is a sense of joy among a good part of the population for the pope,” he said.
Duddy-Burke further acknowledged the church’s center continues to shift away from Europe.
“It’s a time of transition and prayer for all Catholics,” she said. “We join in praying for the pope and his ministry.”