[Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. AP PHOTO/GREGORIO BORGIA]

MANILA, MARCH 18, 2013 (INQUIRER) Agence France-Presse - Pope Francis embarked Thursday on a ground-breaking papacy as the first Latin American leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and a Church in turmoil.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, the humble 76-year-old son of a railwayman, kicked off his first full day as pontiff with private prayers at a Rome basilica.

The election of the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, who had not been considered a favorite in the run-up to this week’s secret conclave, met with widespread surprise and expressions of hope for a groundswell of change for a Church dogged by scandal and internal conflict.

It was also seen as recognition of the Church’s rapid growth in Latin America, which is now home to 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, in contrast to its decline in Europe.

“The choice of Bergoglio shows that the Church is determined not to remain in mourning for the crisis in Europe but has opened its doors to the revitalizing energy of Catholicism’s biggest continent,” Vatican expert Luigi Accatoli told AFP. “It is a momentous step.”

The Italian daily La Repubblica, under the headline “Revolution at St. Peter’s”, said the election of the former Jesuit priest represented a “geographic and cultural upheaval” for the Vatican.

Reactions continued to pour in from world leaders, with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard saying: “The election of a pope from the ‘new world’ is an occasion of genuinely historic proportions.”

The new pontiff, the first from the Jesuit order, emerged smiling onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday to cries of “Long live the pope!” from tens of thousands of pilgrims massed in the famous piazza below.

The first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years devoted his first prayer to his predecessor Benedict XVI and called for “fraternity” among Catholics.

“It seems that my brother cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth (to find a pope),” Francis said, referring to his native Argentina, which erupted in celebrations at his appointment.

“Now, we take up this journey… A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us,” he said.

Bergoglio, seen as a moderate conservative, had barely figured in the pre-vote speculation, although he is believed to have finished runner-up to Benedict in the 2005 election.

Presenting an image as a simple man of the people, he chose to name himself after the ascetic St. Francis of Assisi.

But Bergoglio, hailed by US President Barack Obama as “a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us,” is not without controversy.

He was criticized along with other Catholic clergy for failing to stand up to Argentina’s military dictatorship of 1976-83, during which 30,000 people died or disappeared.

More recently, his opposition to gay marriage and the distribution of contraceptives has brought him into conflict with the Argentine government.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner on Wednesday wished her compatriot “a fruitful pastoral mission”.

There had been growing calls both within and outside the Church for the next pope to come from the southern hemisphere for the first time.

The Argentinian of Italian descent became the 266th pope after Benedict stunned the world in February with his decision to resign, the first to voluntarily step down in 700 years.

Benedict’s eight-year reign was riven by scandals and the new pope will face immediate challenges — chiefly stamping his authority on the Vatican machinery and trying to coax back a Catholic flock that is deserting churches across the West.

The hushed-up sexual abuse of children by paedophile priests going back decades cast a dark shadow over the conclave, which included several cardinals implicated in the scandals.

After Francis visited Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore basilica Thursday, a priest there told AFP: “It was a moving encounter, full of goodness and humility.”

Father Ludovico Melo added that the new pope “kept telling us, ‘be merciful, be merciful’.”

In the late afternoon Francis will return to the Sistine Chapel, the hallowed venue of the conclave that elected him on Wednesday, to co-celebrate mass with his former peers.

The Vatican said Francis’s inauguration mass would take place on Tuesday — a significant date in the Catholic calendar because it is the Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal Church.

Benedict, 85, will retire to a former nunnery inside the Vatican. Francis has already called his predecessor and they will meet soon, the Vatican said.

In one of his last acts as pope, Benedict issued a decree allowing cardinals to bring forward the date of a conclave in the event of a pope’s resignation — a move seen by many as potentially setting a precedent for ageing pontiffs in the future.

Vatican experts said the prospect of future resignations could have encouraged the cardinals to elect an older candidate in the knowledge that he could step down if his health fails.

Reforms in Vatican bureaucracy loom under Pope Francis By Lito B. Zulueta Philippine Daily Inquirer

VATICAN–The election as pope of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina had tangled with state authorities over abortion, homosexual marriage, and the culture wars, is expected to provide a pastoral polish to the conservative theology of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Like Blessed John Paul, Pope Francis has called the liberal call for contraception, abortion and euthanasia as part of the “culture of death.” And like Benedict who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and doctrinal watchdog of John Paul II had called homosexuality an “objective disorder,” the new pope has come up with harsher language to depict the gay rights movement pushing for “same-sex marriage”: he has called it a “demonic movement.”

In short, Bergoglio provides both continuity and consolidation to the much lauded—or criticized—conservative stance of John Paul and Benedict.

Often derided for taking allegedly dogmatic positions on HIV-Aids and other issues of sexual morality, Benedict was perceived as theologically brilliant but pastorally deficient.

As a prelate actively engaged in various ministries for the family and the poor in Argentina, Bergoglio is expected to provide the pastoral or practical underpinning to the Chuch’s highly unpopular stand on the very divisive issues.

Bergoglio was made a cardinal by John Paul in the consistory of 2001. Depending on varying accounts of the papal conclave of 2005 that elected John Paul’s successor, he was said to have been runner-up to Benedict XVI or at least, his name had figured in the initial ballot. (A conclave is confidential and cardinal-electors take a vow of secrecy.)

Other accounts said it was another Jesuit contender, Milan Archbishop Emeritus Carlo Maria Martini, who was pitted against Ratzinger.

Under Benedict, Bergoglio became a member of the obligatory congregations such as the Congregation for the Clergy and Pontifical Council for Family.

Bergoglio also follows the cautious legacy of John Paul and Benedict on social justice.

While John Paul wrote the celebrated social encyclical on labor and justice, Laborem Excersens, and Benedict excoriated liberal capitalism, they were critical of the theology of liberation, a distinctly Latin American theology that provided a political reading of the Bible to connect it with the alleged structural injustice in South America and the need to liberate people from such an unfair system.

Ratzinger, as doctrinal watchdog, condemned liberation theology for its use of Marxist analysis. His 1984 “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’” was supported by Pope John Paul II, who having come from Communist Poland and spearheaded the movement that led to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, was necessarily wary of any political philosophy that freely borrowed from Marxism.

Although eschewing the triumphalist trappings of the usual high church functionary to better identify himself with the poor, Bergoglio is perceived ambivalently on social justice and human rights.

The Argentinian Church has been criticized for its establishment connections, especially since it receives state subsidy. His fellow Jesuit priest, Orlando Yorio, had criticized him when he was head of the Argentinian Jesuits in the 1970’s for failing to endorse the activist work of the Jesuits against the former military dictatorship.

Reform of Vatican bureaucracy

Although a member of a number of dicasteries, Bergoglio is a Vatican outsider and his election should indicate that the cardinal-electors had felt the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy would have to come from the outside and not within.

The overhaul of the bureaucracy has been seen as paramount considering Pope Benedict’s short reign was marred by the “Vatican leaks” scandal and other instances of red tape and factional struggles. Vatican observer Alberto Meloni has suggested that the reform should be made by devolution and “consultation with bishop conferences.”

As reelected president of the Argentine bishops conference, Bergoglio may do just that, but the initiative may run counter to the legacy of Benedict and even John Paul.

In the Ratzinger Report (1985), the Pope Emeritus said the Episcopal conferences “have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church as willed by Christ.”

Benedict however upheld the “conciliarism” of the Second Vatican Council and connected it with bishops’ unity with the papacy.

In earlier books commenting on the reforms of the council, where he was a peritus or theological adviser from 1962-1965, he said that the unity of the Church is rooted in the Episcopate (the bishops who are the magisterium or the teaching authority of the Church) and the unity of the bishops requires the existence of a fellow bishop who is head of the college of bishops—the Bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter.

Still, for Ratzinger, episcopal conferences are just a clearing house of issues, its opinions and discussions are not theologically binding.

In 1998, at Ratzinger’s prodding, Pope John Paul II released the apostolic letter, Apostolos Suos, in which it was declared that bishops conferences could not issue statements on doctrine or morality without unanimity among its members or prior approval from the Holy See.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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