Vatican City: Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected in a surprise choice to be the new leader of the troubled Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, and said he would take the name Francis I.
Pope Francis, 76, appeared on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica just over an hour after white smoke poured from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel to signal he had been chosen to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
The choice of Bergoglio was announced by French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran with the Latin words "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam" ("I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope"
Francis becomes the 266th pontiff in the Church's 2,000-year history at a time of great crisis and difficulty. Although a conservative he is seen as a reformer and was not among the small group of frontrunners identified before the election.
He also went against one of the main assumptions before the election, that the new pope would be relatively young. He is the oldest of most of the possible candidates and was barely mentioned in feverish speculation about the top contenders before the conclave.
The decision by 115 cardinal electors came sooner than many faithful expected because of the large number of possible frontrunners identified before the vote to replace Pope Benedict, who resigned in February.
The secret conclave began on Tuesday night with a first ballot in the Renaissance splendour of the chapel and four ballots were held on Wednesday. The white smoke indicated the new pontiff had obtained the required two thirds majority in the fifth ballot.
Following a split ballot when they were first shut away amid the chapel's Renaissance splendour on Tuesday evening, the cardinal electors held a first full day of deliberations on Wednesday. Black smoke rose after the morning session to signal no decision.
Cheers arose from hundreds of people sheltering from incessant rain under a sea of umbrellas in St Peter's Square as the white smoke billowed from the narrow chimney.
The cardinals had faced a tough task in finding a leader capable of overcoming crises caused by priestly child abuse and a leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the Church government or Curia.
The wave of problems are thought to have contributed to Pope Benedict's decision to become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
The last four popes were all elected within two or three days.
Seven ballots have been required on average over the last nine conclaves. Benedict was clear frontrunner in 2005 and elected after only four ballots.
The cardinals were shut inside for the secret election under Michelangelo's luminous frescos on Tuesday after a day of religious pomp and prayer to prepare for the task.
The initial inconclusive vote about two hours later was seen as a way of filtering the choice down to frontrunners for discussions among the supporters of the various candidates.
No hint emerged before the pope was chosen. The Vatican had taken precautions, including electronic jamming devices, to prevent any leaks from inside the conclave.
The new pope will take up a burden that Benedict declared in February was beyond his physical capabilities.
Apart from an child abuse scandals and the "Vatileaks" case, the Church has been shaken by rivalry from other churches, the advance of secularism, especially in its European heartland, and problems in the running the Vatican bank.
The former head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, is attending the conclave despite calls for him to stay away because of a sex abuse case that led to his censure by his successor Archbishop Jose Gomez in January. He was stripped of all public and administrative duties as punishment.
On Tuesday, lawyers for the victims in four sex abuse cases said the diocese, Mahony and an ex-priest had agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle. Mahony was accused of helping a confessed paedophile priest escape prosecution.