Francis, 1936–, pope (2013–), an Argentinian (b. Buenos Aires to Italian immigrants) named Jorge Mario Bergoglio; successor of Benedict XVI. Francis, the first non-European to assume the papacy in more than 1,200 years, is the first pope from the Americas and the first from the Society of Jesus (see Jesus, Society of). Born into a middle-class family, he earned a chemical technician's diploma, worked in industry, and later entered the seminary. He joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1958 and was ordained a priest in 1969. From 1973 to 1979, he served as Argentina's Jesuit provincial, in charge of supervising his order's activities in the country, and he later was accused of complicity in crimes committed in the 1970s dirty war by Argentina's military. Francis has denied these charges, and others maintain that he saved or sheltered a number of regime opponents and that, although he did not actively oppose the junta, he never collaborated with it. Named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and archbishop in 1998, he was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001. From 2005 to 2011, he was head of the Argentine Conference of Bishops; he opposed contraception, same-sex marriage, and adoption by gay parents, clashing with the Argentine government on these policies.

Considered a social moderate and doctrinal conservative, Francis is known for a personal style expressive of humility and for a devotion to social justice. As pope he has denounced the idolatry of money and structural economic inequality and exclusion, and called for a renewal of the Catholic pastoral ministry. His encyclical Laudato si' [Praise be to you] (2015) called on people to care for the earth and press for a solution to climate change, and placed this heightened concern for the environment in the context of his predecessors' concerns for the poor and human life and their protests against the effects of unrestricted capitalism and consumerism. These concerns subsequently continued to form a central focus of his papacy.

Francis has increased supervision over and sought to overhaul the Vatican's finances, which have been the source of scandal and controversy, and sought to reform the Curia in general. In 2015 he approved the establishment of a tribunal to judge bishops accused of failing to respond properly to sexual abuse scandals. The issue of sexual abuse by priests continue to roil the church, however, and marred his visit to Chile in 2018; later that year he issued a letter strongly condemning such abuse and asking for forgiveness.

His meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba in 2016 was the first between the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, and he subsequently joined with Patriarch Bartholomew I and the head of the Greek Orthodox church in a visit to migrants on Lesbos. His first book as pontiff, The Name of God Is Mercy (2016), emphasizes the centrality of God's forgiveness and mercy to the message and mission of the Church, a theme echoed in his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia [The Joy of Love], which called for the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics to be less judgmental and more compassionate. While reaffirming traditional Catholic teaching on marriage, it noted that other relationships can have positive elements. Grounded in two sometimes contentious synods on the family held in 2014 and 2015, Amoris Laetitia was also notable for giving bishops flexibility in providing pastoral care as they support Catholic families. In 2018 he revised Catholic teaching on capital punishment, which had been considered permitted in certain cases, and declared it an attack on human dignity and unacceptable; he also called for the church to work for its abolition.

See biographies by E. Piqué (2014) and A. Ivereigh (2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Roman Catholic Popes and Antipopes