White smoke signals election of Pope Francis

2:25 pm | March 13, 2013

UPDATE: Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has been elected pope, the first pontiff from Americas. According to Associated Press reports, Bergoglio has chosen the name Pope Francis to lead the Catholic Church.

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White smoke appeared from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, and bells from St. Peter’s Basilica have pealed, meaning the 115 Roman Catholic cardinals gathered at the Vatican from all over the world have chosen a new pope.

The church’s 266th pontiff will replace Benedict XVI, whose surprise resignation last month prompted the cardinals to initiate a conclave, a Latin phrase meaning “with a key,” to pick a new leader for the world’s almost 2 billion Catholics.

Although it’s not immediately clear who received the necessary two-thirds vote, several candidates were mentioned as front runners, including what could be the first African pope or the first pope from the U.S. or Canada.

The new church leader takes over an organization many say is in crisis, from damaging allegations of internal squabbling to the cover-up and abetting of sexual abuse, though the latter issue came to light before Benedict’s papacy.

The new pope will also face pressure to modernize the church on issues from reforming the clergy to allowing contraception. It’s unclear if the cardinals will pick a pope who will change the church or a conservative leader who will remain dedicated to its current principals.

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