Pope Francis I, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who faces the extremely difficult task of moving the church away from a global child sex abuse scandal and other woes, is the first South American ever elected pontiff.
The Argentine-born son of Italian immigrants, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires and is known for his modest lifestyle, humility and dedication to social justice, as well as his adherence to conservative church doctrines.
As an example of his rejection of luxury, Bergoglio resides in a small flat, rides public transportation and even cooks his own meals, according to reports.
However, he is not without controversy. Bergoglio is reportedly linked to the controversial Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation), a conservative lay ecclesiastical movement within the Catholic Church that was once a big supporter of disgraced former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Bergoglio holds conservative views on abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and contraception and has blasted what he calls the “culture of death” in modern society.
The church, he once told Italian media, should make sure “children grow up healthily, are adequately fed, get a good education based on sound moral principles.
"This is a battle to sustain against the many attacks on human life, against the dissemination of the culture of death," Bergoglio said. "We cannot embrace the culture of life if we do not put our roots in Jesus, if we are not united to Him as a branch to the trunk of the vine. Because Jesus is the boss of life. It is defined as the way, the truth and the life. It is only through Jesus that we can spread this ardor, that we can have this fervor to proclaim the message of life.”
In 2010, he opposed legislation in Argentina designed to promote homosexual marriages. In addition, he spoke out against the adoption of children by gays and lesbians, saying such adoptions would deprive children “of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother."
He wrote in a letter to monasteries in 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."
However, a 2010 report by the Merco Press indicated that Bergoglio would have been open to same-sex marriage as long as such couples were prohibited from adopting.
In 2006, Bergoglio also criticized proposals to legalize abortion in Argentina, citing that it violated the beliefs of the majority of Argentines.
However, Bergoglio has also called for respect for gays and even made a visit to an AIDS hospice in 2001 where he washed and kissed the feet of victims.
According to John L. Allen Jr. of National Catholic Reporters, the Jesuit Bergoglio has long spoken out on behalf of the world’s poor and criticized free-market economic policies.
"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least," Bergoglio told an assembly of 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."
Allen wrote of the new pope: “Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he's no defender of clerical privilege or insensitive to pastoral realities. In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of ‘rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.’”
In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa published in February 2012, Bergoglio said of the church’s evolution: “We must get out from within ourselves, go towards the periphery. We must avoid the spiritual malady of a self-referential church; if the church does that, it becomes sick. It’s true that when you go out in the street ... you can have accidents. But if the church remains closed within itself ... it becomes old. And between a church that goes out in the street and gets in accidents and a self-referential one, I prefer, without a doubt, the former.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.