A “low profile” bishop, with few political contacts: this is how the Argentine press describes Archbishop Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, who will receive the red hat of a cardinal Feb. 22. Pope Francis wasted no time in appointing Archbishop Poli as his successor in Buenos Aires. Fifteen days after his election as Bishop of Rome vacated his old see, Pope Francis provided for his former diocese by appointing one of its own sons. Archbishop Poli was born in Buenos Aires in 1947, and entered seminary in 1969, after having received a degree in social work. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires in 1978, and served as a parish priest for some years. In 1992, he was appointed director of the San Jose Vocational Institute, a spirituality year in which seminarians of the archdiocese begin their formation with a year dedicated to spiritual formation. Archbishop Poli was then consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 2002, while the see’s ordinary was Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio. Archbishop Poli assisted Archbishop Bergoglio for six years, until he was appointed Bishop of Santa Rosa. The city is the capital of La Pampa province, a rural area largely given to agriculture and ranching. An Argentine source told CNA that in Santa Rosa, Archbishop Poli was considered a bishop given “100 percent to his pastoral mission, getting in touch with poor people and working with young people, while he has almost not had contacts with politicians.” His homilies are reportedly plain, focused on the Gospel and without any political accent, but Archbishop Poli is known for having twice taken strong stances on issues. Last August, one of his priests posted birthday wishes on Facebook for the late Jorge Rafael Videla, the country’s dictator and de facto president from 1976 to 1981. Videla’s military dictatorship disappeared as many as 30,000 Argentines, and may have murdered as many as 15,000. Kidnappings, torture, and other violations of human rights were rampant. Within a week of the priest’s post, Archbishop Poli called it an “unbearable scandal,” saying the priest caused the Church “serious damage.” He wrote a letter to read in each parish of the archdiocese stigmatizing the priest’s expressions. In addition, when Argentine legislators were debating a same-sex marriage bill, he wrote them a letter clearly explaining the Church’s teaching and opposition to the bill. During his years as a bishop, his major involvement with political power has been a 2009 incident, when he effected a return of an image of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina, to a government office. A government official, Guillermo Di Liscia, considered the image offensive to “the interests of other religions, and of atheists.” Archbishop Poli wrote to his parishes, maintaining that the incident was an example of “religious intolerance, and would certainly carry consequences for the everyday life of the people of La Pampa.” Under the bishop’s pressure, the image was returned to its original location, and Archbishop Poli said Mass for the occasion. Archbishop Poli’s installation as Archbishop of Buenos Aires took place April 20, 2013, and the following month he was appointed to be also the bishop of the ordinariate for Eastern Catholics in Argentina. According to the Buenos Aires-based Valores Religiosos, he is known in the city for bicycling from his cathedral to visit various neighborhoods of the city. The Argentine publication was told by a source that “Bergoglio designated as bishops those most close to his thought. We will not see more bishops with ‘princely’ or ‘stately’ styles.” Another source indicated that Archbishop Poli “never took an interest in politics, nor does he participate in the ‘threat’, or meet with leaders early in the morning as did Bergoglio,” adding that he “fosters Catholic schools, and takes care that ‘the sheep are well.’”
Archbishop Poli is among 19 men who will be given the red hat of a cardinal at the Vatican later this month. He is the fifth Archbishop of Buenos Aires to be made a cardinal: the see has not come without a red hat since 1959.