Pope Francis divides opinion in Argentina

The BBC's Alastair Leithead: "He chose to live in a simple apartment in Buenos Aires, rather than an archbishop's palace, avoiding the luxuries of high church"

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio - now Pope Francis - is a figure who attracts great admiration or strong criticism, depending on who you speak to in his home country of Argentina.

Even before his election, the 76-year-old was a deeply influential leader of the Roman Catholic Church. His Sunday sermons often ended up in the papers and for a certain sector of Argentine society, his opinions were formative.

He was praised for his social work and austere way of life.

Despite holding a prominent position he would often travel on public transport and when travelling to the Vatican he would often fly economy class.

He is said to be a person who mostly keeps to himself, rarely giving interviews and keeping a very low profile.

Those who have met him say that he always refuses dinner invitations at restaurants, preferring to eat alone in small dining places for the homeless.

The new Pope was known to have two passions outside religion: classical music and his football club, San Lorenzo de Almagro.

Left-wing fears

As the first Latin American to be named pope, it is likely that many in Argentina will celebrate one of their own at the helm of the biggest church in the country.

But for some in Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio is an extremely conservative character - a stance which has alienated him among some sectors of society.

His staunch opposition to gay marriage - legalised in Argentina in 2010 - made him a hate figure for supporters of civil partnerships.

Pope Francis

  • Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on 17 December 1936 (age 76) in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent
  • Ordained as a Jesuit in 1969
  • Studied in Argentina and Germany
  • Became Cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998
  • Seen as orthodox on sexual matters but strong on social justice

Some left-wing Argentines, and others involved in social activism, had repeatedly expressed fears that Cardinal Bergoglio would be named as Benedict XVI's successor.

A few years ago, the head of a well-known Argentine human rights organisation denounced Cardinal Bergoglio for having had close ties with the country's last military government (1976-1983).

Horacio Verbitsky, director of the Centre for Social and Legal Studies, published a newspaper article alleging that in 1976 Cardinal Bergoglio had "handed over" two local priests to the military, which went on to torture them. Both were freed months later.

Cardinal Bergoglio denies this, insisting instead that he met with two former Argentine military leaders to plead for the release of both priests.

Although earlier this year a judicial ruling for the first time called into question the role of the Catholic Church during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cardinal Bergoglio has never been formally linked to any of the numerous human rights cases currently under way.

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