Does Pope Francis have a master's degree in chemistry?

by Thomas Reese

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Numerous press reports are saying that Pope Francis has a master's degree in chemistry, including one that incorrectly cites me as a source. Sorry, it is not true.

It is true that Pope Francis studied chemistry and worked as a chemist prior to entering the seminary. But Jorge Bergoglio never graduated from university prior to entering the seminary.

"For Bergoglio's generation, a university education was still something pretty much beyond the reach of his social class," explains Jesuit Fr. Arthur Liebscher, associate professor of Latin American church history at Santa Clara University. "Although Argentine education is completely free of charge, there was an elitist air to finishing a licentiate or doctorate. Bergoglio took advantage of what was available, and it wasn't bad."

What he did do was graduate with a título in chemistry from the Escuela Técnica Industrial No. 12*, which is a state-run technical secondary school.

In the Argentine system, "the título (same word used for a secondary diploma or a university degree) was earned at about age 19 after an extended secondary program," Liebscher said. "Not everyone who goes to secondary school gets one of those diplomas, and the título really represents something beyond our high-school diploma, something akin a certificate from a community college in the U.S."

In Liebscher's opinion, "the education offered in such Argentine schools is quite a bit better, certainly in Bergoglio's era, than what we'd find in a North American high school."

"Bergoglio did receive a secular education aimed at employment in a technical field," Liebscher said. "However, he did not receive a university degree in chemistry."

Liebscher said he hopes this does not sound like "we're denigrating his education. Francis certainly respects the scientific method, and careful measurement ranks high in his list of values."

*Correction: The original version had Bergoglio attending Escuela Nacional de Educación Técnica n.º 27.

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

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