How this charismatic, radical pope keeps surprising the world—while secretly dividing the Catholic Church
By Alma Guillermoprieto
If you intend to be a proper Catholic priest, you would be wise to follow the little formalities of the church. When in Rome, for example, you are required to wear your cassock or at least a clergy shirt, and bishops and cardinals are expected to wear their flowing robes. But Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was cardinal of Buenos Aires before he became known to the world as Pope Francis, hated pomp and ceremony and was not very proper at all. He kept his scarlet robes in a convent founded by an Argentine nun, so he wouldn’t have to carry the damn things back and forth to Vatican City. Before heading for a priests’ residence in central Rome he would stop by the convent, chat for a bit, and pick up the garments, which had been reverently pressed and folded for him by the nuns.
Bergoglio stopped at the convent one last time, last year in March, on his way to the historic conclave of 115 cardinals that would elect him the first Latin American pope and the first from the order of the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits. He must have had a very good idea of his chances. Little known beyond Argentina, he had nevertheless finished second in the vote that elected Benedict XVI in 2005. It was understood that he was an outlier, ascetic, unconventional to a fault, but he seemed to be the right kind of pope to clean up the world’s oldest and largest institution, hemorrhaging followers and riddled as it is with ancient vices, and bring it into the XXIst century.
What may not have been so clear to the cardinals who chose him above all others at that conclave is that Francis would enter the Vatican like Jesus into the Temple or a bull into a china shop, knocking over conventions and rules with abandon. And what stunned everyone was that, from the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s for the first time on that drizzly evening, he would channel a ravening hunger for change among millions of people all over the world. He certainly didn’t look like a world-changer. A…