He 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”