A New Center of Gravity

First Jesuit, Theological Continuity

In winning election as Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio defied the papal pundits, even though they should have seen him coming. His rise marks the decisive shift within Roman Catholicism toward Latin America and the developing world. In theological terms, he represents continuity, yet he is the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years, and also the first Jesuit.

He is a doctrinal conservative who battled gay marriage in Argentina and fellow Jesuits who were more liberal. But he also rebuked priests who denied baptism to children born out of wedlock and has spoken strongly for social justice. He is the first pope to take the name of the saint known for his devotion to humility and to the poor. He is likely to weigh in often on behalf of the world's poorest regions.

"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least," Bergoglio told Latin American bishops in 2007. "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers."

That his election was a surprise is, in itself, surprising. It was widely reported that he came in second to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- Pope Benedict XVI -- in the 2005 conclave. John Allen, the well-sourced Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, cited a prelate who said that Bergoglio had given Ratzinger "something of a horse race."

Bergoglio's support stayed intact in the ensuing eight years, and one church official said that he received roughly 30 votes on the first ballot on Tuesday, a strong showing in the 115-member conclave that placed him in a commanding position to win early after only five rounds of voting.

In the run-up to the conclave, however, he was pushed down the list of probable victors, partly because of his age -- he is 76 -- and partly because some cardinals wondered whether he had the toughness to take on a Vatican bureaucracy in desperate need for reform. This will now be tested.

More liberal American Catholics seeking change in the church's stance on the role of women and sexuality cannot expect much movement from Pope Francis. He is a traditionalist, although the same could be said of all other potential winners. Francis was an early critic of liberation theology, which united Catholics and movements on the political left in Latin America.

Yet an American bishop noted that the choice of Francis would not be greeted as a clear victory by conservatives, either. On liturgical issues, he has opposed those who seek to roll back changes instituted by the Second Vatican Council.

This bishop also noted that in his first speech as pope to the crowd in St. Peter's Square, Francis laid heavy stress on his role as the "Bishop of Rome," rather than emphasizing his standing as the leader of the church. This could, the American bishop said, be a signal that Bergoglio is sympathetic to forces in the church unhappy with the concentration of power in the papacy who have called for a decentralization of authority away from the Vatican.

The conclave also pointedly stepped away from cardinals with close ties to the Curia, as the Vatican bureaucracy is known, and also from the early Italian favorite, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan.

In the end, it is Pope Francis' standing as a Latin American and as an advocate of the poor that may well define him.

His connection to Argentina is not without ambiguity. He has come under criticism for not speaking up strongly against the brutal Argentine junta that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. Yet he is unlike some past leaders in the Latin Church who allied themselves with privilege.

He gave up the archbishop's mansion in favor of a small apartment, and used public transit. He's worked in his nation's slums and asked his priests to do the same. He has outlined the shortcomings of unregulated capitalism, and of the International Monetary Fund.

For many Catholics, a great deal of hope rests on the new pontiff's choice of the name Francis, the saint who disdained formal authority, devoted himself to a simple life, cared passionately about the marginalized, and saw actions as counting far more than proclamations.

It is said that St. Francis once declared, "Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words." For a pope, it's a challenging approach.

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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Soothing to the soul, that it will be difficult for Paul Ryan & Co to continue to misapply the subsidiarity principle and level charges of class warfare.

A good day for the LCWR, one thinks.

Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach, CA

I am in awe of the choice made by the College of Cardinals. It does seem like the Holy Spirit was at work here. As EJ Dionne outlines the salient points about our first Pope Francis, I can't but believe he is the perfect choice for the challenges the Church faces today. Would that there emerge a "St. Ignatius/St. Francis of Assisi" to lead the Church today; perhaps he is here now. I am full of hope for this humble, learned man of orthodox faith and propensity for serving the poor. May he lead to reconciliation of the conservative and liberal factions in the Church, combat the slide into atheistic secularism in the West, and reach out to all men and women of good will througout the world.


The Catholic world has not been this impressed in a long time by a pope. One thing for sure, the Vatican bank will get a cleansing like it never experienced. So will all those who love the trappings of Empire.

Firstly, As George Weigel explains http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/342964/first-american-pope-george-weigel?pg=3  (excerpt below), Pope Francis wasn't picked because he was the "silver medal winner" last conclave.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.   The facts are "Dan Brown fascinating", something of which all should be aware, even more confirming that indeed the Holy Spirit picked this pope.

Cardinal Bergoglio was used in 2005; he knows precisely who used him and why; and while he is a man of the Gospel who is not looking to settle scores, he is also a man of prudence who knows who his friends, and who his enemies, are. Here’s the story:

In April 2005, the progressive party (which was a real party then) came to Rome after the death of John Paul II thinking it had the wind at its back and clear sailing ahead — only to find that the Ratzinger-for-pope party was well-organized; that Ratzinger had made a very positive impression by the way he had run the General Congregations of cardinals after John Paul II’s death; that he had deep support from throughout the Third World because of the courtesy with which he had treated visiting Third World bishops on their quinquennial visits to Rome over the past 20 years; and that, after his brilliant homily at John Paul’s funeral Mass, he was indisputably the frontrunner for the papacy.

As for a "Vatican II Rollback," why would an orthodox pope rollback that which is good?  The problem has never been Vatican II per se, only the missue of it.

Mr. Dionne it's disappointing that you would participate in a "Pius XII-like" defemation of a good man, simply by a Wikipedia smear quote..  Are you aware that Amnesty International fully cleared him of any wrong doing?  Just like many who are hated when they speak Truth to Power, that was the case for Pope Francis.  In our soundbite world, all it usually takes is the accusation to destroy the reputation of a good man.   

Furthermore, for a man who indeed like St. Francis, "lives the gospel", how could you possibly believe  this line that you wrote:   Yet he is unlike some past leaders in the Latin Church who allied themselves with privilege?

It appears that we got the "real deal."  The fact that both sides have problems with him is confirmation that like Christ, Pope Francis isn't going to fit neatly into anyone's box. 

The bellwether of holiness and obedience to Christ is the Eucharist and devotion to the Mother of God, both of which we already know, shapes Pope Francis. 

What JPII and Benedict gave us in scholarly teachings, from social justice to holy obedience, Pope Francis will "live out" on the world stage, as simply and as Christ-like as possible.



A little fact checking would have gone a long way.



Patricia, here's is Dionne's quote:

"His connection to Argentina is not without ambiguity. He has come under criticism for not speaking up strongly against the brutal Argentine junta that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. Yet he is unlike some past leaders in the Latin Church who allied themselves with privilege."

Dionne didn't accuse Pope Francis of anything untoward, much less criticize him of wrongdoing.  He was simply reporting a fact: that he did not "speak up strongly against the brutal Argentine junta." Failure to publicly oppose a brutal regime does not constitute some sort of war crime for which someone needs to obtain clearance from Amnesty International. Whether working behind the scenes was a more effective strategy to direct public confrontation is something which can't be readily determined.  Dionne was simply reporting something which is accurate: the the new pope is not without critics in his home country.  It's as much a part of the resume as taking public transportation and in other ways eschewing the trappings of privilege.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

Keep in a perspective Church leaders actions; one has to know details. For example, in 1968 after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Chehoslovakia, only one bishop of Polish Epicopate dared to openly criticize it; the rest was just silent ,event the hero, cardinal Wyszynski, sent before into an isolation for 3 years by Communists; communist executed at that ime few priests and bishops in "accidents". Will one call it chickennes or "reasonable policy"? Only a philosopher, Franciszek Siwiec burned himself on the Stadium in protest; the West got news only few months later.

Cardinal Glemp who tried just to silence the anti-Communist critic,a martyr now, Fr.Popieluszko is not in a great esteem; one bishop who decided delivered personally (pushed by Communist Security Office)the warrant of Procurator to Fr.Popieluszko that he had refused to admitt from the Post died later in a ...car accident.

I hope the present Pope did not make such foolish (like Glemp) and evil ( bp Dabrowski)things in Argentine.


Viva Le Brainiac Humilitus!  A Jesuit is a Jesuit forever.  I think it a mistake to place Francis in those tiring "conservative" or "liberal" boxes.  Thank you, Holy Spirit.

Lots of history to worry about. Argentina would not be at the top of anyone's list of countries unless one were part of the nobility and in power. The German and former Nazi connections are worrisome as is the constant economic rape of the country by both insiders and outsiders. Meanwhile, the church in all of Latin America is completely disorganized and a shambles. Where will anyone begin? With modern communications and technology, it is too late to reinstill the old superstitions and devotions. With the exposure of such blatant oppression of women, lack of church attendance, and serious shortage of clergy to minister to any of the huge crowds, the gradual handing on the faith is in jeapordy. Within a generation, the entire population could be lost to any resemblence to Catholicism or even Pentecostalism.

There really needs to be a much more sophisticated set of labels than 'conservatve' or 'liberal' as we can see how complex an individual is from the article's report of the new Pope.    Anyone any ideas?

There is so much hope and excitement being expressed these days. It reminded me when President Obama was first elected: the whole world was full of expectation (e.g. Nobel peace prize committee). Or the Vatican Ii council. Both  cases have experienced tremendous setbacks in realising hopes and dreams.  The Pope's bidding us to pray for him is not just a humble comnent: realisation of the hopes we place on his papacy require nothing short of divine help! !

To read the text of Pope Francis' first Angelus address which took place on Sunday, click on the link.The link includes a bonus:  A video clip of Pope Francis' first meeting with individual members of the public! http://allhands-ondeck.blogspot.com/2013/03/pope-francis-1st-sunday-angelus.html


I pray for his safety.

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