Pope Francis was born on 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires, one
of the five children of an Italian couple. His father was a railway
worker. He has spoken fluent Italian all his life.
He obtained a Master's degree in chemistry, before deciding to
join the Jesuits, studying at the national Jesuit seminary of Villa
Devoto. He studied in Chile, and earned a further degree, this time
in philosophy, at the Roman Catholic University of Buenos Aires. In
the 1960s, he taught literature and psychology at Inmaculada High
School in Santa Fe, and later at the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos
He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1969, and in 1973 became the
head of the order in Argentina. In 1992, he was made an Auxiliary
Bishop of Buenos Aires, and Coadjutor Archbishop in 1997.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998, he had a reputation as
a spiritual man, a competent administrator, and an excellent
pastor. He has also been an outspoken critic of economic injustice
and social inequality, and a champion of the poor. During a 48-hour
strike by public servants in Buenos Aires, for example, he publicly
noted the differences between "poor people who are persecuted for
demanding work, and rich people who are applauded for fleeing from
He adopted a down-to-earth style of pastoral leadership that
allowed him access to ordinary people, many of whom referred to him
simply as "Father Jorge".
His enemies, however, have criticised him for behaving as if he
were the sole interpreter of the Jesuit charism. Some also say
that, while he was Jesuit provincial, he did not do enough to
oppose the dictatorship in Argentina, which killed up to 30,000
people between 1976 and 1983. His defenders argue, however, that he
negotiated behind the scenes for the release of political
He has been a stalwart opponent of secularism. He has spoken out
against liberal abortion laws and same-sex marriage, describing the
latter, when writing to religious, as "a machination of the Father
of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God".
His opposition to gay adoption prompted the President, Cristina
Fernández de Kirchner, to attack his tone as reminiscent of
"medieval times and the Inquisition".
In general, however, his support for traditional family values
has been expressed in positive pro-life initiatives, and in the
pastoral care of divorcees.
A former Bishop of Argentina, the Rt Revd David Leake, who is
now an Honorary Assistant Bishop in Norwich diocese, knew the new
pope for more than a decade in Buenos Aires. Speaking last week,
Bishop Leake described how he and a former Bishop of Sheffield, the
Rt Revd Jack Nicholls, had met Cardinal Bergoglio, who recognised
them both "as bishops in the Church of God".
In Argentina, the Cardinal was "very open to the poor", having
been "influenced by liberation theology. He certainly wouldn't be a
militant, aggressive liberationist, but he certainly would take on
board a lot of their concepts and a focus with an option to the
Preaching at ecumenical services in Buenos Aires Cathedral,
Cardinal Bergoglio "would have the President of Argentina and
members the government sitting about five to ten yards away from
him, and he would in no uncertain terms tell them what he felt
[about socio-economic issues]. He is so very brave, courageous,
simple, and humble."