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Francis I Becomes First Pope From the Americas

(CN) - The Vatican conclave today elected the first American and first Jesuit Pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who took the name of Pope Francis.

In an address to a cheering crowd in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis, who took the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, thanked his fellow cardinals for "going to the end of the world" to choose him as the 266th pope.

Bergoglio, 76, was elected on the fifth ballot by 115 cardinals.

It was a surprising, perhaps shocking move, from a church beleaguered by scandal. Jesuits tend to be regarded as liberals in the Catholic Church, and all of the cardinal-electors had been appointed by the previous two popes, arch conservatives: Pope John Paul II, who reigned for 27 years, and his successor Benedict XVI, who last month became the first pope to resign since the Middle Ages.

Bergoglio is known in Argentina for his simple life style and sympathy for the poor.

It's a radical turn for the Catholic Church, whose popes have rejected the progressive "preferential option for the poor," declared by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. In a 1968 Episcopal conference in Medellin, Colombia, the Latin American bishops pushed the church toward the liberal, sometimes radical, tenets that came to be known as Liberation Theology.

But the popes pushed back, beginning with John Paul II, elected in 1978, and his successor Joseph Ratzinger, John Paul's enforcer of doctrine, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

The election of a comparatively liberal Jesuit was almost certainly a reaction from the cardinals to the sex-abuse scandals that emerged after decades, or centuries, of repression, and have cost the church hundreds of millions of dollars, and untold numbers of defections.

Pope Francis - the first pope to take that name - assumes the papal chair as lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church continue, including a recent federal complaint in Los Angeles that accuses the church, in essence, of human trafficking of sexually predatory priests across international borders.

Pope Francis faces a church in turmoil. Catholics around the world, liberals particularly, rejoiced in his election. Whether his election will set off a conservative reaction within the church remains to be seen. But it was a surprising, and historic election today, on the second day of the conclave.

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