Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Focus on Pope Francis: the election was widely believed to have come second in the 2005 conclave, but the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires was barely mentioned in the shortlists to succeed Pope Benedict. 

But from conversations with cardinals in Rome it is possible to trace Pope Francis’ path to the Chair of Peter.

When the drenched crowd in St Peter’s Square was told last Wednesday that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ had been elected Pope there was silence. Not because people were disappointed, but because they knew nothing about the man the cardinals had decided would be the 265th successor of St Peter. 

The Jesuit cardinal from Buenos Aires had not featured high on even the best-connected Vatican watchers lists of papabili. Widely believed to have finished second in 2005, he is now 76 and by many considered too old. Most cardinals had said they were looking to elect someone in their late sixties. So how, after just five ballots, did Bergoglio emerge as Pope Francis?

From speaking to cardinals and those connected with the election process it is possible to piece together the sequence of events that led to the election of the first Jesuit Pope. From the outset, a number of cardinals stressed that one of the crucial differences between the 2005 conclave and that of 2013 was the quality of the general congregation discussions before the voting started.

“Last time, three days were wasted talking about process,” said one, speaking anonymously.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM, Archbishop of Durban and a Franciscan, explained: “The fact there was no funeral to take attention away from the task ahead was important … They were very honest, open discussions.” He added that the cardinals also knew each other much better this time, pointing out that the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had made sure the cardinals had gathered together before each consistory.

The discussions included some heated exchange of views on the running of the Roman Curia, the Church’s central administration. The Italian newspaper la Repubblica reported that the Brazilian Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz received applause after criticising Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, the outgoing Secretary of State, for his management of the Curia and Institute for Works of Religion, otherwise known as the Vatican Bank.

Some of those most vocal about the desire for reform were the American cardinals, who delighted journalists by holding daily press conferences. When these were stopped – understood to be on the instructions of the Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone and his allies – it only strengthened their argument for reform. 

And while the American cardinals were told to stop speaking to the press, leaks of the general congregation meetings continued to appear in Italian papers. This infuriated a number of cardinals. Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, for example, found a speech he gave without notes appear verbatim in the press.

The VatiLeaks saga, the leaking of the Pope’s personal documents to an Italian journalist who made a television documentary and wrote a book, also played a part in the background. “Obviously, something’s not working if the personal papers of the Pope [Benedict XVI] can be purloined from his desk and be printed in the media, including papers we’ve sent,” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told  The National Catholic Reporter. Cardinals would also have been aware of rumours that a second lot of leaked documents is ready to be published.

A consensus was quickly developing that the new Pope needed to be a strong administrator. Someone from outside the Curia was needed to clean up the mess. A number of cardinals also started to be convinced that the next Pope should come from outside of Europe. The question, however, was where he would be from. Africa was considered, but Cardinal Napier explained that the African cardinals together decided that they didn’t have anyone “well enough known” and the African Church was considered still “too young”.

Looking East, many were impressed by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines. However, at 55 and having only been a cardinal for a few months, he was ruled out as too young. Nevertheless, many are talking about him for “next time”.

Latin America was therefore the obvious choice. “A number of them, as in 2005, were looking to South America,” according to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, who attended the general congregations but was unable to vote in the conclave as he was over 80. “At the same time it was the quality of the man that was important.”

Reports started naming Cardinal Odilo Scherer, the Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, as a candidate. He had worked for seven years at the Congregation for Bishops and is close to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, president emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops and also the Pontifical Council for Latin America. This counted against him, however, as he was seen as the candidate of the curial old guard.  It is also understood that another factor that weighed against Scherer was his intention, should he become pope, to appoint Cardinal Mauro Piacenza as Secretary of State. Cardinal Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, is a leading curial conservative.

Cardinal Napier said that one of the things that impressed the cardinals about Bergoglio was his leading role on the committee that wrote the 2007 Aparecida document, produced following the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops’ conferences.

The lengthy document – authorised by Pope Benedict XVI – focused on evangelisation and social justice. It was a strong example of collaboration between bishops. This was important given that a number of cardinals spoke in the congregations of the need for the new Pope to govern in a collegial manner. Some suggested that the new Pope needed to create a group of cardinals that he could consult with regularly, a sort of “council of elders”. Cardinal Bergoglio also won praise for his intervention during the general congregations – he managed to make his points within the time limit given to cardinals to speak.

According to Cardinal Seán Brady of Armagh, Bergoglio stressed the importance of the laity being the protagonists in the New Evangelisation, and the fact that priests and laity must work together. Reports also say he called for a purification of the Church.

As the conclave started, Cardinal Bergoglio’s name was apparently on cardinals’ shortlists. Cardinal Brady said: “I always knew he was a strong candidate, an important figure in an important part of the Church.” 

But in the first ballot, it is believed, Cardinals Angelo Scola of Milan and Timothy Dolan of New York received the most votes. However, according to La Stampa, the 28 Italian cardinals were divided as to whether they should support Scola. As a result, his support rapidly faded, and Dolan’s support also waned. A number of cardinals from the United States also began supporting Bergoglio. 

The American cardinals are believed to know Pope Francis well and are impressed by his humble, prayerful style. This idea of a new, simpler tone to the papacy was clearly important. “Gradually over the days, the discussions moved from just the need for good governance to the need for a Pope deeply rooted in the Gospel. A new style in the Church and a new style of papacy,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said. 

Leading Europeans – including Cardinals André Vingt-Trois of Paris and Walter Kasper, the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also indicated their support. Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB, of Honduras, well known among fellow cardinals and at one time himself considered papabile, also played an important role in briefing electors on Bergoglio.

While names and ideas are thrown about freely in the pre-conclave discussions and behind-the-scenes dinners, including one hosted by the British Ambassador to the Holy See, when the doors of the Sistine Chapel close and the voting starts, a different process kicks in. It is often described as a retreat or a process of discernment. As the votes were counted, Cardinal Bergoglio’s support grew and by the end of the afternoon voting on Wednesday, more and more cardinals transferred their support to him. Estimates say that 90 out of the 115 cardinal electors voted for Francis.

The Pope has said he took his name following a brief exchange with his friend Cardinal Cláudio Hummes OFM, the emeritus Archbishop of São Paulo, former prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and a Franciscan. Cardinal Hummes told him not to forget the poor.

As Cardinal Napier said: “The main concern was that we’ve reached a point in the history of the Church where we need to be able to reflect what people expect of the Church. In general that is poor people who are looking for a reason to believe that life is worth living. In Europe there are lots of arguments about theology, but that is not where people’s lives are. This needed to be reflected.”

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