The new pope

Lucia Newman, based in Buenos Aires, is Al Jazeera’s Latin America editor.

Lucia Newman

I was interested to read that before going to Rome for the election of the new pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio told Argentine journalist Joaquin Morales Sola, that he did not stand a chance to be selected. “My age (76) works against me,” he reportedly had said.

Pope Francis/ image: Casa Rosada/wiki
Pope Francis/ image: Casa Rosada/wiki

Maybe that is why he was comfortable spilling the beans about what he thought needed to be done, such as eradicating corruption from the guilded palaces of the Vatican, and going after the Vatican Bank to make it more transparent. “Everyone knows who the corrupt Cardinals are,” he was quoted as saying.

One of pope Francis’ first priorities will apparently be some serious and long overdue house cleaning. He is a Jesuit, which means that he must be a shrewd politician, but the priest who came “from the other side of the world”, as he put it, must have a lot of courage, too, to confront some of the dark and powerful alliances with which he will be co-existing behind the Vatican walls.

He has chosen to be called pope Francis – the Saint associated with humility, who wore a simple , tattered brown robe and sandals. As a Cardinal and Archbishop, Jorge Bergoglio used second hand priests’ robes, worn out shoes and flew economy class when flying to Rome, even at his age. He spent far more time in the slums of Buenos Aires , even the most dangerous ones, than in the upper class neighbourhoods where the Catholic Church has lost less influence.

But I was more surprised by something I was told by one of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who every Thursday since the late 1970s have marched around the plaza facing Argentina’s presidential palace demanding justice for their loved ones who disappeared during country’s brutal military dictatorship (1976-1983).

Referring to allegations that the then up and coming Jesuit priest Jorge Bergoglio failed to denounce rights abuses, she said that the role of Argentina’s Catholic Church as an institution had been shameful, covering up and often condoning torture and murder. But she added that she was happy with the selection of the Argentine Pope. “We couldn’t expect the Vatican to choose a revolutionary, but at least for the needs of today’s world, he is a man with his heart in the right place, with the poor and the most needy.”

I couldn’t help wondering as I heard that the pope was calling for the church to confess its sins (probably referring to sex abuse and corruption), whether the new pontiff might also be considering asking for the first time for his country’s forgiveness, in the name of the Catholic church, for the role it played during Argentina’s infamous Dirty War.


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