Martin Bashir
updated 3/21/2013 5:16:46 PM ET 2013-03-21T21:16:46

While the new pope has received an initial warm welcome, Pope Francis may face a rocky road ahead as he has inherited a church wrestling with myriad challenges.

The white smoke began billowing from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel at just after 2:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday and continued for the next 30 minutes. Tears of joy and shouts of jubilation were seen and heard across the globe–the papal conclave had elected a new pope.

Shortly thereafter, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina (the first non-European chosen to lead the Church in more than 1,200 years) came out to greet the thousands who had waited in the pouring rain and the many millions more glued to their television sets. His decision to take the name Francis, in reference to the patron Saint Francis of Assisi should come as no surprise to anyone. Bergoglio, a Jesuit priest, has become well-known as a champion for the sick and the poor.

While the new pope has received an initial warm welcome, Pope Francis may face a rocky road ahead as he has inherited a church wrestling with myriad challenges–including a shortage of priests, a sexual abuse crisis and a congregation which seems to be abandoning the strict doctrine of yesteryear and moving in a more progressive direction.

But what else do we know about this 76-year-old Argentine that will now lead the approximately 1.2 billion Catholics around the world? Here are 5 facts to know about the church’s new leader.

1. Bergoglio came in 2nd place in 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI was elected to the papacy. He was considered a long-shot this time around given his age as many religious experts expected a younger man to take the helm and lead the Church in a more progressive direction.

2. In 2001, while visiting the Munoz Hospital in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio requested a jar of water from hospital staff and proceeded to wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients, telling reporters that “society forgets the sick and the poor.”

3.  The new pope holds largely traditional views–opposing abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women. In 2010, then-Cardinal Bergoglio opposed legislation introduced by the Argentine government to allow same-sex marriage, writing in a letter to the monasteries of Buenos Aires, “Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. 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.”

4. As the New York Times reports, Bergoglio has been criticized for not standing up against Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s.

…the country was consumed by a conflict between right and left that became known as the Dirty War. He has been accused of knowing about abuses and failing to do enough to stop them, during a period when as many as 30,000 people were abducted, tortured or killed by the dictatorship.

5. Again from the New York Times, Pope Francis will also face the challenge of bringing peace to the Vatican bureaucracy.

The new pope will also inherit power struggles over the management of the Vatican bank, which must continue a process of meeting international transparency standards or risk being shut out of the mainstream international banking system. Francis will have to help make the Vatican bureaucracy — often seen as a hornet’s nest of infighting Italians — work more efficiently for the good of the church.


Discussion comments