The selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as new pope was a big surpise — on the final day his odds were as low as 33-1 on Paddy Power.
But picking Bergoglio totally makes sense.
Without downplaying the pastoral reasons for his selection, it’s clear that Bergoglio represents a stragic choice that may help to meld the Catholic church’s past with its present.
Bergoglio, or Pope Francis, as he will now be known, is the first pope from the “New World”. He breaks a long tradition of European popes in the modern era.
That’s a big deal. According to recent research from Pew, 40 per cent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, and 72 per cent of Latin America consider themselves Catholic. They’re the present reality of the church, and possibly its future too. As Bergoglio is believed to have come second to Joseph Ratzinger in the papal conclave of 2005, passing over the continent twice in less than a decade would probably not endear the Vatican to Latin American Catholics — a population facing threats from growing secularism and Evangelical movements.
“It’s a genius move,” Marco Politi, a papal biographer and veteran Vatican watcher, told the Washington Post. “It’s a non-Italian, non-European, not a man of the Roman government. It’s an opening to the Third World, a moderate. By taking the name Francis, it means a completely new beginning.”
Additionally, Bergoglio probably appealed to the cardinals (especially the Italian cardinals, who make up the biggest voting bloc) because not only is he from the new world, but his father was an Italian immigrant. That may well have made him more palatable than other “New World” candidates.
There are, of course, reasons why his selection may raise some eyebrows. His remarks on gay adoption have caused controversy, and the logic of picking a 76-year-old pope with one lung immediately after a pope retires for health reasons could certainly be questioned.
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