Then there's the fight between the archbishop and the president.
In 2010, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner led a battle to pass a bill to legalize gay marriage.
Francis, then archbishop of Buenos Aires, put himself right in the middle of the fight, calling the proposed legislation "a destructive attack on God's plan."
With a front-page counterpunch, the president said the church possessed "attitudes reminiscent of medieval times and the Inquisition."
The bill eventually became law, and Francis left the battlefield defeated.
But some supporters hold it up as evidence of his traditionalist views.
Perhaps it's no surprise Kirchner gave Francis a rather dry congratulations after his election, said Rosendo Fraga, an Argentine political analyst.
The president failed to even mention that Francis is the first pope from Argentina or the Western Hemisphere, a signal that her government may feel at odds with the church.
Was it a snub?
Fraga said Francis "was a critic of corruption, of social inequality, drugs, human trafficking, which in reality wasn't an agenda of confrontation, but that the government perceived as an agenda of confrontation."
Girard, the retired doctor who knew Francis during his early years in the priesthood, interpreted the war of words differently. Francis was not lashing out at just the bill but at what he saw as a larger effort by the government to divide the country along political lines.
This is why the cardinals selected him, Girard said: Francis doesn't fit into a mold.
"They can be progressive or conservative," he said. "But they're not dumb."