Pope Francis: how the quiet man fooled an army of pundits

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]

In the days since the thrilling election of Pope Francis, the story of how he came to be elected – and why it was not predicted by most Vatican-watchers – can now be told with at least some certainty.

Although the deliberations within conclaves are secret, it is usually possible, by piecing together different pieces of information, to build a reasonable picture, and the voting patterns of most conclaves become known over time. Some of what follows can be sourced; some of it is the result of private conversations.

The invisible man

bergoglio1One respected vaticanista, Sandro Magister, said as far back as 2002 that in any future conclave Cardinal Bergoglio would receive an “avalanche of votes”. Describing him as shy, reserved, and a man of few words, Magister wrote that “he hasn’t lifted a finger to make himself better known – but that is considered one of his great merits”, before adding that his austerity, frugality and intense spirituality made him certainly papabile. “He visits the Vatican only when strictly necessary, the four or five times a year they summon him. He reserves a small room in a residence for clergy  …  and every morning at 5:30 he´s already awake and praying in the chapel”.

The then Archbishop of Buenos Aires was relatively unknown in the College of Cardinals until September-October 2001, when he was in Rome for the Synod of Bishops, on the theme of the role of bishop.  The relator, or chair, of the Synod was Cardinal Edward Egan of New York. Shortly after the Synod opened, when the Twin Towers were attacked and Cardinal Egan flew back to New York, Cardinal Bergoglio was asked to take his place. His management of the synod was widely praised. As José María Poirier, editor of the Argentine Catholic  magazine Criterio, recalled: “The Argentinian moved easily and with great confidence into the role, leaving a favourable impression as a man of communion and dialogue”.

Poirier added:

But there is little else in public view, the modest glimpses of Bergoglio only serving to heighten his enigmatic profile … And then, of course, there is that Trappist silence. His press secretary, a young priest, spends his time interpreting what the Cardinal does not say. The other part of his job is to turn down, on Bergoglio’s behalf, interviews or invitations to write articles. The Archbishop of Buenos Aires … seems to become less visible with each passing year.

2005 Conclaveconclave3

In the conclave of 2005, dozens of votes went to him after Cardinal Mario Martini of Milan, also a Jesuit, asked to be excluded from consideration because of his Parkinson’s. Unlike Cardinal Martini, who was seen as too liberal by many of the cardinals, Cardinal Bergoglio was seen as a highly attractive choice by many of the 117 electors, and especially those who felt it was time for the papacy to go to the developing world.

On the second ballot in 2005, according to the vaticanista Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa, Bergoglio obtained around 40 votes, just behind Cardinal Ratzinger, something backed by many accounts. Sergio Rubín of the Buenos Aires daily Clarín and author of a 2010 book-long interview with Cardinal Bergoglio, El Jesuita, describes what happened next:

At that moment, he decided to stand aside to request that hissupporters transfer their ballots to Ratzinger — who from the start had obtained more votes – not only because of everything that he represented, and to prevent his own candidacy blocking the election and causing the conclave to be prolonged, which would affect the image of the Church: a delay could be read as a sign of disunity among the cardinals before an expectant world … It is understandable that Bergoglio did not want to be responsible for that.

(Cardinal Bergoglio’s plea happened, according to Giacomo Galeazzi, over dinner at the Domus Santa Marta).

2013 Conclave

How was his candidacy missed so spectacularly this time round?

IMG_8095The main reason seems to be the silence which has traditionally enveloped Cardinal Bergoglio. With almost no wider public presence, never giving interviews, he was simply overlooked. Even though Vatican-watchers were aware of the 2005 story, their assumption was that, not having been heard of since, he would no longer be considered in the conclave of 2013.

And there was his age: most commentators here in Rome were hearing that the cardinals were looking for a younger man. If there was a main contender this time round, it appeared to be Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, but most believed that the field was wide open, and the Latin-Americans in the frame were thought to be Cardinals Odilo Scherer of Sao Paulo, Brazil, or Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico.

It appears that, when the cardinals arrived in Rome to begin their 4 March daily deliberations, they were making the same assumption. Before the start of the General Congregations, for example, Cardinal Francis George told John Allen that the cardinals were looking at the same lists that the journalists had drawn up (Bergoglio was not on them.)

with CristinaBut towards the end of the week, when the cardinals had decided to wrap up their deliberations and fix the date of the conclave for 12 March, something had changed.

Various accounts agree that, in those daily meetings, Cardinal Bergoglio made an impressive speech  — on the role of the laity. Before or after that address, he was approached by some over-80 cardinals who had voted for him on the first and second ballots in 2005, to ask him if he could be willing to be considered in 2013. Having received a favourable answer, the idea of Cardinal Bergoglio spread quickly among a number of different groups. That may explain why Cardinal George enigmatically told journalists, on the eve of the conclave, something different from what he had said before, that the cardinals were now also considering candidates not on the pundits’ lists.

Journalists were further fooled by Cardinal Bergoglio’s absence prior to the conclave. While Cardinals Scola and Scherer celebrated Mass in their titular churches — surrounded by scrums of journalists — Bergoglio stayed away from his.bergoglio3

As John Allen surmises, those voting for Cardinal Bergoglio were likely to include the 15-20 electors still under 80 who had voted for him in 2005; the 19 Latin-American cardinals; as well as the 11 Africans and 10 Asians, and a good number of American cardinals.

According to Giacomo Galeazzi of Vatican Insider, on the first ballot on Tuesday night, “Bergoglio surprisingly and very suddenly obtained the largest number of votes” although the overall the votes were still too scattered to get a clear picture. Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, widely expected to take the lead in the first ballot, fell victim to divisions and disagreements among the Italian block of 28. Bergoglio, in short, was the clear leader in the first ballots, and, as usually happens in short conclaves, the votes travelled to him on the first full day of voting.

According to Carlo Marroni, Vatican correspondent for the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, said the votes in the cardinals’ first ballot on Tuesday evening were split between Scola, Ouellet and Bergoglio, with the latter slightly behind. But overnight, support for Bergoglio grew and continued to climb during the two ballots on Wednesday morning and the first in the afternoon, pulling in the votes not only of the Latin American cardinals but a large group loyal to Ratzinger that had supported Scola.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna confirms this. “I won’t tell you how our talks went; that is an internal thing. You can say one thing with certainty, Cardinal Bergoglio wouldn’t have become pope in the fifth ballot if he had not been a really strong contender for the papacy from the beginning,” he told reporters.Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony

There is no official record of the conclave. The above account will be superseded over time, as more details emerge. But two days after the election, we at least have a better idea of how the quiet, media-shy cardinal from the south, who never sought the papacy, became the 266th successor of St Peter.

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