Pope Francis: Simple image, complex past

VATICAN CITY (AP) — On the streets in Buenos Aires, the stories about the cardinal who would become the first pope from the

Americas often include a very ordinary backdrop: The city bus during rush hour.

Tales are traded about chatting with

Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio as he squeezed in with others for the commute

to work. They

sometimes talk about church affairs. Other times it could be about

what he planned to cook for dinner in the simple downtown

apartment he chose over an opulent church estate.

Or perhaps it was a mention of his affection for the tango, which he said he loved as a youth despite having one lung removed

following an infection.

On the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica just

after a rain shower Wednesday, wearing unadorned white robes, the new

Pope Francis

also appeared to strike the same tone of simplicity and pastoral

humility for a church desperate to move past the tarnished

era of abuse scandals and internal Vatican upheavals.

While the new pontiff is not without some

political baggage, including questions over his role during a military


in Argentina in the 1970s, the selection of the 76-year-old

Bergoglio reflected a series of history-making decisions by fellow

cardinals who seemed determined to offer a suggestion of renewal

to a church under pressures on many fronts.

"He is a real voice for the voiceless and vulnerable," said Kim Daniels, director of Catholic Voices USA, a pro-church group.

"That is the message."

Pope Francis, the first from Latin America

and the first from the Jesuit order, bowed to the crowds in St. Peter's


and asked for their blessing in a hint of the humble style he

cultivated while trying to modernize Argentina's conservative

Roman Catholic Church and move past a messy legacy of alleged

complicity during the rule of the military junta of 1976-83.

"Brothers and sisters, good evening," he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for

about 40 percent of the world's Roman Catholics.

Groups of supporters waved the

white-and-blue Argentine flags in St. Peter's Square as Francis made his

first public appearance

as pope. Bergoglio reportedly had envoys urge Argentines not to

fly to Rome to celebrate his papacy, but instead donate money

to the poor.

In taking the name Francis, he drew

connections to the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi, who saw his

calling as trying to

rebuild the simple spirit of the church and devote his life to

missionary journeys. It also evokes references to Francis Xavier,

one of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order that is known

for its scholarship and outreach.

Francis, the son of middle-class Italian

immigrants, came close to becoming pope during the last conclave in

2005. He reportedly

gained the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting

before he bowed out of the running before selection of Vatican

insider Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

By returning to Bergoglio, the conclave

confounded speculation that it would turn to a younger candidate more

attuned to younger

elements in the church and with possibly more stamina for the

rigors of the modern papacy with nearly nonstop obligations

and frequent global travel. Francis appears in good health, but

his age and possible limitations from his single lung raise

questions about whether he can face the demands of the position.

Unlike many of the other papal contenders,

Bergoglio never held a top post inside the Vatican administration, or

curia. This

outsider status could pose obstacles in attempts to reform the

Vatican, which has been hit with embarrassing disclosures from

leaked documents alleging financial cover-ups and internal feuds.

But the conclave appeared more swayed by Bergoglio's reputation for compassion on issues such as poverty and the effects of

globalization, and his fealty to traditional church teachings such as opposition to birth control.

His overriding image, though, is built around his leaning toward austerity. The motto chosen for his archdiocese is "Miserando

Atque Eligendo," or "Lowly but Chosen."

Even after he became Argentina's top church

official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope


Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed

in a downtown building, warmed by a small stove on frigid

weekends when the building turned off the heat. For years, he took

public transportation around the city, and cooked his own


He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and

share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit," Bergoglio told Argentina's priests last year.

Bergoglio almost never granted media

interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was

reluctant to contradict

his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were

false, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his

efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by


to openly challenge Argentina's dictatorship. He also worked to

recover the church's traditional political influence in society,

but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Fernandez

couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that

are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free

contraceptives for all.

His church also had no say when the

Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape

cases, and when Bergoglio

argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children. Fernandez

compared his tone to "medieval times and the Inquisition."

Yet Bergoglio has been tough on hard-line conservative views among his own clerics, including those who refused to baptize

the children of unmarried women.

"These are today's hypocrites; those who

clericalize the church," he told his priests. "Those who separate the

people of God

from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the

child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world,

must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style has been the antithesis of Vatican


"It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well

seen in Rome," said the biographer Rubin.

His preference to remain in the wings, however, has been challenged by rights activists seeking answers about church actions

during the dictatorship after the 1976 coup, often known as Argentina's "Dirty War."

Many Argentines remain angry over the

church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was

kidnapping and killing

thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive

elements" in society. It's one reason why more than two-thirds of

Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but less than 10

percent regularly attend Mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to

protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

"Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the

leftist guerrillas. He doesn't forget that side," said the biographer Rubin.

The statements came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church's image

than about aiding the many human rights investigations into the junta era.

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court. When he eventually did testify in

2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio, who ran Argentina's Jesuit order during the dictatorship.

One examined the torture of two of his

Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped

in 1976 from

the slums where they advocated liberation theology, which is the

belief that Jesus Christ's teachings justify fights against

social injustices.

Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed

their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took

extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them, including

persuading dictator

Jorge Videla's family priest to call in sick so that Bergoglio

could say Mass in the junta leader's home, where he privately

appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but

Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed

him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers

to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when

church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror

in the streets.

But rights attorney Bregman said Bergoglio's own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was

torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators.

"The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his

back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a

young woman

who was five months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed

in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader

of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them;

Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before

the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: The

woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given

to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about

any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

"Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when

it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he

didn't know

anything about it until 1985," said the baby's aunt, Estela de la

Cuadra, whose mother, Alicia, co-founded the Grandmothers

of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies.

"He doesn't face this reality and it doesn't bother him," the aunt said. "The question is how to save his name, save himself.

But he can't keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is."

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio

taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking

over as Buenos

Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the

economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained

capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.

Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Argentina's government. Relations became so frigid that the president

stopped attending his annual "Te Deum" address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what's wrong with


"Is Bergoglio a progressive, a liberation theologist even? No. He's no Third World priest," said Rubin. "Does he criticize

the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes."