A cousin of mine, a Catholic priest, sent me the following email when I asked him about the selection of Pope Francis. His reply:

When I spoke with fellow Jesuits from other countries about Bergoglio’s prospects for becoming pope, I was taken aback by their dislike. He was harsh and disciplinarian, they said, and never went to visit his Jesuit brothers in the curia in Rome. According to Marcó, the alienation between Bergoglio and the Jesuits was a thorn in his side that he bore with silent patience.

pope-francisBecause of issues like this, and his confrontations with the Argentinian government on questions such as same-sex marriage, he has been classed as a conservative. But a different picture has been painted by one of Bergoglio’s friends, a radical feminist and Catholic called Clelia Luro, who is about as far to the left on the ecclesial spectrum as you can go. She married a prominent and respected bishop, Jerónimo Podestá - one of the leaders of the progressive reforms that followed the second Vatican council - and was sometimes seen concelebrating Mass with him, the kind of thing that makes a Catholic cleric’s hair stand on end. But Bergoglio reacted differently.

Luro talked to me at length about her friend, of whom she has the highest opinion, and told me how she would write to him almost weekly, and he would always reply by ringing her up and having a short chat. When Podesta was dying, Bergoglio was the only Catholic cleric who went to visit him in hospital, and, when he died, the only one who showed public recognition of his great contribution to the Argentinian Church.