Pope Francis

Pope Francis and his 'new style of papacy'

What Pope Francis told cardinals after addressing faithful for first time, giving an immediate glimpse of his 'new style' as a man of the people

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 6:15am

In private meetings before their conclave to elect a new pope, Catholic cardinals took note when one of their number rose to speak - clearly, quietly and persuasively - about the need to purify the church and streamline its unwieldy bureaucracy.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio seemed to sum up the very themes and challenges the leaders were debating. He was forceful without being abrasive, one cardinal recalled.

By the time they strode solemnly into the Sistine Chapel and closed away the outside world on Tuesday, many of the cardinals had significantly refined their lists of candidates.

Scarcely 24 hours later, on a fifth round of voting, at least 77 of 115 prelates chose the unassuming cardinal from Buenos Aires as the 266th pontiff. The final tally was kept secret.

The choice was historic, making him the first pope from the Americas and the first from a continent other than Europe in more than a millennium.

The choice of Bergoglio, who will reign as Pope Francis, also stunned the public and many veteran Vatican-watchers.

Almost no one predicted that Bergoglio would be elected to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned last month.

An unwritten rule holds that a second-place finisher should not be chosen as pope because it could be seen as a slight to the previous pope. But Benedict's resignation at 85, the first of a pope in 598 years, may have changed that thinking.

Cardinals often say it is the Holy Spirit that guides them in the conclave. But the real work, the trading of names and weighing of pros and cons, takes place in the days before.

Over pasta dinners and informal chats, and especially in the congregations - the meetings where cardinals speak - they air grievances or outline plans and visions.

For some, it is as close to a campaign speech as they get.

While support grew for Bergoglio, other candidates may have peaked or failed to gain traction because of serious criticism by cardinals of the Italian-dominated Vatican bureaucracy.

In each round of conclave balloting, votes for other candidates dropped off or shifted to Bergoglio until he received the majority needed, cardinals said.

The fact that Bergoglio came in second in the 2005 conclave that chose Benedict may have had an effect.

By the third ballot, the trend was clear, cardinals said. Bergoglio became sombre.

The election over, the new pope declined an elevated throne to receive the cardinals' pledges of allegiance. Then he joined them on the charter bus back to their residence rather than allowing himself to be whisked away in a limousine.

The new style was evident even in Francis' wardrobe.

Rather than wear the new golden pectoral cross he was offered after his election on Wednesday, he kept the simple crucifix of his days as bishop.

He also turned down the red velvet cape that Benedict wore when he was presented to the world for the first time in 2005, choosing the simple white cassock of the papacy instead.

Bergoglio "brings a new style to the papacy", said John Thavis, an expert on the Vatican.

"Yes, the cardinals see him as a manager. But they also see a whole new attitude.

"They saw it in him and not in the other candidates, who pretty much follow in line with the way things have been done [at the Vatican] all along."

And he has a sense of humour. During dinner after his election on Wednesday, the cardinals toasted him, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York, said.

"Then he toasted us and said, 'May God forgive you for what you've done,'" Dolan added.

Francis chose the name of a medieval patron saint of Italy who came from a wealthy family and took a vow of poverty.

He is the first pope to come from the Jesuit order, whose members take a vow of poverty and have traditionally shunned careerism, instead focusing on service, education and engaging with the world.

He flew economy-class to Rome on Alitalia and cooked his own meals in a modest flat in Buenos Aires, rather than being waited on by staff at the archbishop's palace.

Eschewing a chauffeur, Bergoglio usually took the subway around the Argentine capital, though he prefers buses because he can see the streets, he said in The Jesuit, a 2010 book of interviews with him.

Bergoglio is well educated and disciplined, a quality associated with his order, and has diverse literary taste, according to the book. He enjoys Jose Luis Borges, his homeland's master of genre-bending short stories, as well as Russia's Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who wrote about a Christ-like man in The Idiot. His favourite film is Babette's Feast, a 1987 Danish film based on a Karen Blixen story. It tells the story of two austere, devoutly Christian spinsters transformed by the arrival of a French female chef in 19th century Jutland.

On Thursday, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the archbishop of Bordeaux, France, recalled how, soon after Francis greeted the faithful from the loggia at St Peter's Basilica for the first time as pope, he left with the cardinals to return to their residence during the conclave.

"When he left to go back with us to Santa Marta, the staff moved us aside, because usually the pope descends alone in the elevator," Ricard said.

"And he said, 'No no, no, no, we can all get in.' And so we all got into the elevator, with the pope.

"And when we got to the bottom, he said, 'No, I am coming with you,' and he got in the bus with us, and the papal car was left empty," he added. "I think this is the style of our new pope."

Several cardinals suggested that Bergoglio, who conforms to conservative church doctrine, was theologically unimpeachable while also able to reach out to the developing world, parts of which are the only regions where Catholicism is growing. Born to Italian immigrant parents and raised in Argentina, he is seen as a pastoral teacher who can inspire action without browbeating.

"He can bring unity," Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels said at a news conference.

"He comes from a different continent and so he comes with positive baggage to be able to do that. He won't be a pope above the people, but with them."

One of the most biting reactions to Francis came in a statement from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the association of women whose children were "disappeared" during Argentina's military dictatorship, from 1976 to 1983.

The group contrasted Francis, who has long been criticised for not confronting the dictatorship, with the 150 or so other priests who were killed during the so-called dirty war.

"About this pope they named, we have only to say Amen," Hebe de Bonafini, the group's president and a longstanding critic of the incoming pope, said in a statement steeped in irony.

But for Italians, the pope - whose parents were from the northern Italian region of Piedmont - may quickly become the most beloved Argentine since Diego Maradona, who played for the Napoli soccer club in the 1980s.

Additional reporting by The New York Times, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg