The election of Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was somewhat of a surprise, although it should not have been, because he seems to have been the runner-up in the last papal election,, coming in second after Ratzinger.
A few thoughts:
From all reports he is dedicated to the poor and leads a simple, austere life. He wants to seek out the most wounded and despised members of society. He is fiercely orthodox in his denunciations of abortion and gay marriage.
His record as Jesuit superior during Argentina’s dirty war has been questioned. Leftist terrorism in the1970s was designed to provoke a crack-down which would provoke a revolution. The leftists got the crackdown, but not the revolution, and the military executed 30,000 victims. Bergoglio remained publicly silent, although he seems to have helped some victims.
What can one infer about his character from this public silence? It is hard to say. He may have had trouble understanding what was going on and uncertain about how to proceed. I think one can say that he does not seek out confrontation, even when provoked.
What does all this mean for the church?
His embrace of the despised may include abusers and enablers of abusers in the Church; he just visited Cardinal Law.
He may ignore the Curia and concentrate on the horrendous problems of the Catholic poor. The typical Catholic, we forget, is a South American or African peasant. These people face starvation, oppression, disease, and grinding poverty. If he concentrates on these problems he will be praised, and he may ignore sexual abuse and the corruption in the Church administration that has enabled it, viewing it as a minor problem compared to what the poor are suffering throughout the world.
That may have been the intention of the Italian cardinals, who are happy with the way the Curia functions and thinks that all the fuss about sexual abuse is Anglo-American Puritanism.