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Pope Francis, soccer fan, scores with Argentina media

March 14, 2013|By Ken Bensinger

In Argentina, it was only fitting for the national soccer god, Diego Maradona, to weigh in on his countryman, the new Pope Francis.

"The god of soccer is Argentine," the shaggy-haired star, revered by some as a kind of religious icon, said in a statement reprinted in every news outlet in the country. "And now the pope is too."

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the Catholic Church's 266th pope dominated headlines and news pages around the world. Not surprisingly, the most ink was spilled south of the Rio Grande, where hundreds of millions of Catholics celebrated the selection of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff in church history. And the epicenter of coverage came from his home country.

PHOTOS: Election of a new pope

"A historic day: the Church names the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio pope," shouted the lead headline in Clarin, Argentina's largest daily, with a circulation of about 350,000. The tabloid, owned by one of the country's most powerful families, published about 30 articles on the news, including profiles of the Buenos Aires neighborhood where Francis grew up and a photo of "Francisco, el primer papa Argentino" riding the city's subway.

La Nacion, a right-center broadsheet that's known as a supporter of the church, was equally enthusiastic, stuffing its website chock-a-bloc with jubilant photos, videos and graphics celebrating the news.

Both Clarin and La Nacion have been locked in an ugly and very public battle with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for several years over her attempts to limit concentration of media outlets in the country.

The papal election proved an irresistible opportunity to continue that fight, and both papers focused much of their coverage on the tense relationship between the president and Pope Francis, particularly over gay rights. The president was an active supporter of gay marriage -- which became legal in Argentina in 2010 -- but it was something that the new pope, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, vocally opposed.

Left-leaning dailies, while still enthusiastic, took a distinctly different stance on Pope Francis. Pagina 12, a Buenos Aires paper popular among intellectuals and academics, ran a lead story with the headline "To Err is Divine" that focused on allegations that Pope Francis had close ties to the military dictatorship of the late 1970s.

That issue, which has generated considerable discussion around the globe, went unmentioned in Argentina's more populist papers, including Clarin and La Nacion.

FULL COVERAGE: Pope Francis

By contrast, Pagina 12 ran a lengthy opinion article by Horacio Verbitsky, the Argentine investigative journalist whose 2005 book, "The Silence," explored the actions of the Catholic Church during the nation's dirty war, which was responsible for the death and disappearance of tens of thousands of Argentines.

In the article, Verbitsky attacked Bergoglio for supposed complicity with the dictatorship. "One thing I am certain of is that the new bishop of Rome will be ersatz," he wrote.

Regardless of politics, the Argentine media all agreed on one topic of critical importance in the nation of 40 million and home country of FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi: soccer.

Article after article reveled in the fact that the pontiff loves "futbol" and, by virtue of his election, instantly becomes the world's most famous fan of San Lorenzo, a professional team based in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Boedo, displacing Academy Award-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen.

MORE:

The men who will not be pope (this time)

Insiders didn't predict Bergoglio, but who did?

With prayer, Francis starts his first full day as pope

ken.bensinger@latimes.com


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