Olga Wornat, an Argentine journalist and writer, is one of the few people outside the Church that has interacted closely with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the current Pope Francis. She interviewed him while researching her book “Nuestra Santa Madre, historia pública y privada de la iglesia católica,” (“Our Holy Mother, A Public and Private History of the Catholic Church), and they’ve been close since then.

Huffpost Voces spoke with her about his personality, the controversies that surround him, and about the dark side of the man who is now known as the “Pope of the poor.”

Who is the man behind Pope Francis?

Like all Jesuits, he is a fascinating character. He belongs to a congregation of intellectually brilliant people, and he is that way. He is a very enigmatic man, who keeps a low profile. The Jesuits are the Church’s most brilliant, they really like the Church, and they are interested in politics. His appointment is very curious because it is the first time that a Jesuit reaches such a high position, especially taking into account that the Jesuit congregation was chastised by John Paul II. He practically forced them to disappear because he saw them as a congregation of Marxists, rebels, revolutionaries.

How did you become his biographer?

I met Bergoglio when he was at the Buenos Aires’ archdiocese and he was the right hand of Cardinal Quarracino. He worked a lot with the poor. He is an austere man with a very fragile health. He is the son of an Italian family. His mom was a middle-class Italian.

Why do you say he is health is fragile?

He had tuberculosis when he was a child, and that had important consequences. He lacks the upper side of his right lung and he has angina pectoris. That is why he swims a lot.

How would you describe him from your perspective?

He is a difficult man because he didn’t speak much. Rather, he listens. He is a man of few words, and contrary to John Paul II he is not a great conversationalist. He is very distrustful. When I was researching my book, I am not sure if he liked the fact that I was writing about the Argentine Catholic Church, but he agreed to talk to me. I told him that there was going to be an important chapter that would be about him, and he got nervous –especially because there is a dark time in his life that has to do with the military dictatorship.

What was Pope Francis’ position during Argentina’s military dictatorship?

There are very contradictory accounts about the degree of collaboration that he maintained with the dictatorship during those years. I spoke with Jesuits, with members of the congregation, which point him out as a collaborator. Bergoglio was a man who at that time was the director of the Colegio Máximo, which is a school in the province of Buenos Aires where all the Jesuits from the Southern Cone are formed. There are concrete allegations against him –I have them—about how he supposedly gave the government lists with the names of the members of the Company of Jesus who were involved with the guerrillas, the men who had leftist or revolutionary inclinations. Two of them, whom I interviewed, voiced strong accusations against him.

Did you speak about the subject with the Pope? What did he tell you?

He denied it; he said it wasn’t true, and that in fact he used to meet with the members of the military junta to ask about the priests that had been kidnapped. It is a cloud that hovers over his history as a priest, one that is dark and contradictory. There are those who love him and those who hate him. There is no middle term with him. But that is not the only dark story in his past.

What is the other dark story in Pope Francis’ life?

He never told me why the Company of Jesus punished him. He was sent to a sort of spiritual getaway to an Argentinian city, and he was there for a long time. While he was there he was isolated and he suffered from a profound depression. He is a man who is intellectually fascinating, and politically inconsistent. He is a staunch opponent of abortion, of marriage equality and its respective policy regarding adoption, but in his personal life he is a very warm man. He never raises his voice and he is very intelligent. He listens to you and he is curt. When you ask him a question, he responds with few words –just what needs to be said—and whenever he says goodbye, he says, “Pray for me.”

What was the reason for that punishment that he refuses to comment?

There are many stories, and I don’t want to say anything because I’m currently writing about it and there are still a lot of facts to confirm. But I can say that he is like everyone else in the Company of Jesus. He is shy, lonely, and he is not a charismatic man. Nevertheless, he shares a great connection with the poor.

The Jesuits are very progressive in their way of thinking, somewhat left-wing, and because of that some people hate them and some people love them. He has very austere ways. He always turned down official cars. He liked to ride public buses, the metro, and he used to walk to poor neighborhoods. When he was a cardinal in Argentina, he organized a tribute for Carlos Mujica, a leader of the Third World priests who was murdered by the Triple A [a right wing Peronist paramilitary movement] in 1975. He went all the way to Retiro [a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires, where land was seized without permission]. This shows the light and the shadows that forms his personality.

What is Pope Francis’ position regarding the dark side of the Church, the child abuse allegations?

I had a personal incident with him related to that subject. When I wrote the book, I dedicated a chapter to Archbishop Storni, who was the third ranked member of the Catholic Church in Argentina. I denounced him for the abuses he committed against the seminarians from the province of Santa Fe. There was a terrible scandal at the time.

The archbishop sought refuge in the Vatican and Ratzinger [Benedict XVI], who was in charge of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith while John Paul II was still alive, asked Storni to return to Argentina, to resign, and to turn himself in. I talked to Bergoglio about the situation and I asked him if they were going to defend him. He answered, 'The justice will take care of him.' After that, I found out that the lawyers that were defending Storni in the case of the seminarians were lawyers that were hired by the Argentinian episcopate, of which Bergoglio was a member.

I talked to him about this and I told him that what they were doing was terrible, because the episcopate was paying for the lawyers of a man who had abused 14-year-old teenagers. There was even an investigation led by the Argentinian Church. He didn’t respond. He just told me that that’s how things were, and that the Church’s laws were very strict.

Knowing him, what do you expect of Bergoglio as Pope?

We are not going to see a man who will make the big changes because he is a man of the Church. Yes, he is a man of great social sensibility, a brilliant man, but not someone who will embark on the great reforms. He is not prone to pomp, and he doesn’t like people to kiss his ring. He hates that. I gather that now he will have to follow those protocols, though maybe not, because even when he was a cardinal he wouldn’t allow people to kiss his ring. He didn’t like that. I even saw him dressed as a civilian when he was a cardinal, contrary to what all the others do. He is a Jesuit. You have to read Saint Ignatius of Loyola to understand Bergoglio.

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  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Argentina's cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis I addresses the crowd on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica's after being elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis I on Wednesday, becoming the church's first Latin American pontiff after a conclave to elect a leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

  • People cheer in St. Peter's Square as they listen to newly elected pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who will take the name Pope Francis, on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I speaks to the waiting crowd from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Argentinian women scream in St. Peter's Square as they listen to the announcement that the newly elected Pope will be Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who will take the name Pope Francis on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis I (C) appears at the window of St Peter's Basilica's balcony after being elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

  • People cheer in St. Peter's Square as white smoke billows out signifying that the Cardinals in the Conclave have come to a decision on a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Cardinals entered the conclave on March 12 to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI after he became the first pope in 600 years to resign from the role. The conclave inside the Sistine Chapel is attended by 115 cardinals as they voted to select the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • People cheer in St. Peter's Square as white smoke billows out of the chimney signifying that the Cardinals in the Conclave have come to a decision on a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis I appears at the window of St Peter's Basilica's balcony after being elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE

  • French proto-deacon cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announces the name of the new Pope, Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on March 13, 2013 from the balcony of St Peter's basilica at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

  • Nuns jubilate as white smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel meaning that cardinals elected34 a new pope in the second ballot of their secret conclave on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

  • A pilgrim kisses a cross after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Swiss guards enter St Peter's Square after white smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing that Catholic Church cardinals had elected a new pope during a conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE

  • People jubilate as white smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicating that the College of Cardinals have elected a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI's successor, the 266th Pontiff, has been selected by the College of Cardinals in Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

  • Faithfuls react in St Peter's Square after white smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing that Catholic Church cardinals had elected a new pope during a conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE

  • People shelter from the rain in St. Peters Square as they await news of the newly elected Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI's successor, the 266th Pontiff, has been selected by the College of Cardinals in Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

  • Swiss guards parade after white smoke rose from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel meaning that cardinals elected a new pope on the second day of their secret conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

  • A general view shows the crowd on St Peter's square as white smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel meaning that cardinals elected a new pope during the conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI

  • Faithfuls wait under rain for the smoke announcing the result on the second day of the papal election conclave on March 13, 2013 at St Peter's square at the Vatican. In a rain-swept St Peter's Square, tens of thousands of people were hoping today to see the puff of smoke that would signal that cardinals meeting inside the chapel had reached a decision on who should be the next pope. Despite two puffs of black smoke in as many days, signalling that the 115 cardinals in the secret conclave had yet to choose a successor to Benedict XVI, many in the crowd were optimistic. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS

  • White smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel meaning that cardinals elected a new pope on the second day of their secret conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO

  • Faithfuls wait under rain for the smoke announcing the result on the second day of the papal election conclave on March 13, 2013 at St Peter's square at the Vatican. In a rain-swept St Peter's Square, tens of thousands of people were hoping today to see the puff of smoke that would signal that cardinals meeting inside the chapel had reached a decision on who should be the next pope. Despite two puffs of black smoke in as many days, signalling that the 115 cardinals in the secret conclave had yet to choose a successor to Benedict XVI, many in the crowd were optimistic. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

  • A faithful waves a French flag as the crowd waits for the smoke announcing the result on the second day of the papal election conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. Catholics gathered from the early morning in St Peter's Square on Wednesday for the first full day of a conclave to elect a new pope, saying they wanted a compassionate leader who would bring hope to the world. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

  • White smoke emerges from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. The white smoke indicates that the new pope has been elected. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

  • Faithfuls react in St Peter's Square after white smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing that Catholic Church cardinals had elected a new pope during a conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE

  • White smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel meaning that cardinals elected a new pope on the second day of their secret conclave on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

  • White smoke billows from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicating that the College of Cardinals have elected a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI's successor - the 266th Pontiff - has been selected by the College of Cardinals in Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Crowds gather in St. Peter's Square to wait for the election of a new pope by the cardinals in conclave in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

  • White smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • White smoke billows from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

  • Crowds cheer after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)



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  • Latin America has more Catholics than any region of the world

    This is the most obvious reason. <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/13/world/americas/latin-american-pope/?hpt=hp_t1" target="_blank">Latin America is home to 480 million Latinos, according to CNN</a> -- making it the region with the most Catholics in the world. <a href="http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Catholic/Geography-of-the-Conclave.aspx" target="_blank">Some 39 percent of Catholics live in Latin America,</a> well ahead of the 24 percent that live in Europe, where all popes in recent history have been selected from.

  • It’s time for the Church to diversify

    The position of Pope has been held exclusively by white European men in recent history, despite the fact that they are a dwindling segment of practicing Catholics.

  • Latinos Are Kind Of Like Europeans

    For a two-millennia institution that accepts change slowly, Latin America makes it easy for the Church to take baby steps toward the reality that Europeans make up less than a quarter of the religion’s adherents. Millions of Europeans, including Pope Francis’ Italian-born father, immigrated to Latin America, giving it a more intimate relationship with Vatican City than some other regions of the world.

  • Latinos are helping keep the number of Catholics in the United States steady

    <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/latinos-save-american-catholicism/story?id=17491901" target="_blank">Catholicism has experienced the “greatest net losses”</a> of any major religion in the United States in recent years, ABC/Univision News reports. The decline has only been slowed by the influx of Latino immigrants and Hispanic population growth.

  • A Latino Pope may help boost Catholic enthusiasm in Latin America

    Latin America may be the Catholic Church’s world stronghold, but it’s also seen dropping numbers in some countries. More than <a href="http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=390745&CategoryId=14091" target="_blank">1,000 catholics left the Catholic Church every day over the last decade in Mexico</a>, according to Spanish newswire EFE. In Central America and Brazil, evangelical churches won converts in recent years. Picking a Pope from the region may help the Church ramp up enthusiasm for the region’s most dominant religion.