The new Pope Francis, Argentinean Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is the first South American pope and the first Jesuit to lead the Catholic Church. Despite these breaks with tradition, Francis is expected to remain conservative on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, scholars say.
The 76-year-old pope was born in Buenos Aires in 1936 and earned a master's degree in chemistry before taking the cloth and becoming a Jesuit. Jesuits are part of a Roman Catholic religious order known for their work in education, intellectual research, cultural pursuits and missionary efforts.
"Many Jesuits got their Ph.D.s in science before they went into theology," John Haught, a theology professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told LiveScience. Haught suspects the pope will take the view that science and faith are compatible, because "they are talking about different things," adding he would be shocked if the new pope "were anything but friendly to the natural sciences."
The new pope is more prominently known for his commitment to social justice for the poor. He is thought to have taken the name "Francis" in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a champion of the poor. [Saint or Slacker? Test Your Religious Knowledge]
"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least," Bergogliio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007, as reported by the National Catholic Reporter. "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers."
The pope has also shown compassion for victims of HIV and AIDS, visiting a hospice in 2001 in Argentina where he kissed 12 AIDS patients and washed their feet, according to an ITV News report.
But on moral and social issues, Bergoglio has been highly orthodox. He has been a staunch opponent of abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. In response to legislation to allow same-sex marriage introduced by the Argentine government in 2010, he said, "We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God." He also called adoption by gay parents a form a discrimination against children, provoking an angry rebuke from Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
"On issues like abortion or gay marriage, I don't think it's reasonable to expect any changes," from the new pope, historian Thomas Noble of the University of Notre Dame told LiveScience. "These are not perceived as scientific issues, they are perceived as moral issues."
Noble declined to speculate further on what kind of pope Francis would be. "I think at this moment, it would be irresponsible to make predictions," Noble said, adding that the world will have a better idea in a week or two.
The pope began his first day of the papacy in private prayer at a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary. He will be officially inaugurated as Bishop of Rome in St. Peter's Square tomorrow (March 16).