The Vatican Codes: This Is How I Rewrite My ConclaveNew “revelations” on the conclave that elected Benedict XVI. All aimed against him. The strange legends built upon cardinals Martini and Bergoglio
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, October 7, 2005 – Months after the conclave that elected Joseph Ratzinger as pope on April 19, reconstructions of how it is thought to have taken place continue to emerge.
The latest one appeared at the end of September, in an important Italian magazine on geopolitics, “Limes,” a Latin word meaning “boundary”. Lucio Brunelli, Vatican commentator for the Italian state media company RAI, published an article in the magazine in which he included passages from what he defined as “the diary of an authoritative cardinal,” with the results of the four voting sessions which resulted in the election of Benedict XVI.
The name of the cardinal is not revealed. The fact that he would have violated the “grave obligation” to preserve the secret of how the conclave proceeded is excused by the “rigorously historical, rather than sensationalistic, intention” that Brunelli attributes to his decision to make the diary public.
Judging by the published passages, the diary’s anonymous author is very attentive to the formal procedures of the election. He reproduces the entire formula of the vow that the cardinals take at the beginning of the conclave. He meticulously describes the manner in which the ballots are deposited in the urns, and how the votes are counted. He pays great attention to the threshold of votes – one third – capable of clearing the way for the election of a pope.
And up to this point, the diary doesn’t reveal anything new. Anyone can read about the procedure exactly as described in the apostolic constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis,” which in 1996 established the present rules for the conclave. With respect to the past, the most important new development is the possibility granted to the cardinals to lower the quorum to elect the pope: from two thirds of the votes to half of them plus one, with the decision being made by simple majority after 34 inconclusive votes.
John Paul II entrusted the writing of “Universi Dominici Gregis” above all to a cardinal with expertise in canon law, Mario Francesco Pompedda, now retired from his position as prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic segnatura. Pompedda is the one in particular who sought and obtained the possibility of lowering the quorum to half plus one of the votes – a much-criticized innovation. Unruly observers are now identifying Cardinal Pompedda as the hidden influence behind the diary published in “Limes.”
But there are errors in the diary that a jurist cardinal should not commit.
For example, where he cites cardinal Camillo Ruini, the anonymous author describes him this way: “the former apostolic vicar of His Holiness for the diocese of Rome.”
The correct identification, however, is not “apostolic vicar,” but “vicar general.”
But the really glaring error is the word “former.” When a pope dies, his vicar does not lose his post, but continues to manage the diocese of Rome.
This major discrepancy is enough to cast doubt upon the reliability of the “historical rigor” of the diary. The rest of the text suggests, rather, that the “intention” to publish it was a much more combative one: to demonstrate that Ratzinger’s victory was not at all “plebiscitary,” that it was in question up until the last moment, that it was unduly favored by the fact that Ratzinger was the dean of the college of cardinals, that the time is ripe for a “new” pope, perhaps a Latin American, and that Benedict XVI should accept these as limiting factors.
According to the diary published in “Limes,” Ratzinger obtained 47 votes in the first scrutiny, 65 in the second, 72 in the third, and 84 in the fourth, out of a total of 115 votes.
But instead of focusing on the dazzling rapidity of this election, the author stresses the forces that are supposed to have opposed him, personified by cardinals Carlo Maria Martini and Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Martini is presented as having received a few votes, 9, only during the first scrutiny. But it is claimed that he was very active in opposing Ratzinger up to the end, together with a group whose “brain trust” the diary identifies in cardinals Karl Lehmann and Godfried Danneels. Their following is defined as “a significant contingent of cardinals from the United States and Latin America, plus a few cardinals of the Roman curia.”
Bergoglio is shown as having received many more votes than Martini did: 10 in the first scrutiny, 35 in the second, 40 in the third, and 26 in the fourth.
But the anonymous diarist writes of him:
“I watch him as he goes to deposit his ballot in the urn on the altar of the Sistine Chapel: his gaze is fixed upon the image of Jesus, who is judging souls at the end of time. There is suffering written on his face, as if he were imploring: God, don’t do this to me.”
According to this reconstruction, the votes for Bergoglio were intended not to elect him, but to “force a stalemate that would lead to the withdrawal of Ratzinger’s candidacy.”
With 40 votes for Bergoglio at the third scrutiny, the goal seemed just within reach, to go by the diary:
“‘Big news tomorrow’, Cardinal Martini whispers, flashing a sibylline smile to one of his colleagues during the break for lunch. Asked to clarify, Martini confides that he foresees a change in the candidates for the next morning.”
But it didn’t happen. The afternoon of that same day, at the fourth scrutiny, Ratzinger was elected pope, and the anonymous author notes the fact with poorly concealed disappointment. He recalls how Ratzinger managed the interregnum in his capacity as dean, and notes “the perplexity of some of the cardinals in the face of the potential conflict of interest in which a dean who is also a candidate for the papacy finds himself. Some of the cardinals are proposing that this sort of inconvenience be avoided in the future by having the office of dean filled by a cardinal past the age of eighty, who would therefore be excluded from the conclave because of his age.”
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The anonymous diarist of “Limes” is not the first to indicate that, after Ratzinger, Bergoglio was the cardinal who received the most votes in the last conclave.
But other sources have indicated that the counterbalance was cardinal Martini. He is the one thought to have gathered the votes of the opposition. According to some, Martini equaled or even surpassed Ratzinger in the first two or three scrutinizes, only to withdraw and “clear the way” for the election of the German cardinal. Among others, one firm supporter of this version is historian Alberto Melloni, the famous author of books on John XXIII and Vatican Council II.
But still other sources invalidate both of these reconstructions. In his book “The rise of Benedict XVI”, the American Vatican commentator John L. Allen Jr., linking the testimony of eight cardinals, has maintained that the progressive increase in the votes for Ratzinger never met any real opposition. A certain number of the votes did cluster around Bergoglio, but without constituting any sort of alternative. Moreover, from the beginning of the conclave Bergoglio was a decisive supporter of Ratzinger’s election. The votes for him went against his own wishes, and he received a label as a “progressive” which did not correspond at all to his convictions.
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That the reconstructions of the conclave disseminated until now are mutually contradictory – although they all claim to draw from confidential information received from cardinals – should come as no surprise.
The most recent conclave whose proceedings have been reconstructed from documentary sources is that of 1903, which elected Pope Pius X.
There are only partial reconstructions of the later conclaves, with a greater or lesser margin of doubt.
For example, there is a widely diffused common interpretation of the conclave that elected Karol Wojtyla pope in 1978, but it is far from certain.
According to this common version, at first there was a clash between the ultraconservative cardinal Giuseppe Siri and the moderate progressive Giovanni Benelli. The stalemate between the two is thought to have successfully opened the way to the Wojtyla “surprise.”
But just read “Passing the Keys,” a book on the conclaves from Leo XIII on published in 1999 by American historian Francis A. Burkle-Young, and you’ll find a reconstruction far different from the widely accepted one. And it’s more plausible, too, although it also presents contradictions and uncertainties.
According to this reconstruction, Wojtyla’s candidacy had already emerged during the conclave that elected John Paul I. And in the following conclave he appeared from the beginning as an alternative to the only Italian cardinal with any real chance of success, Benelli. Many of the cardinals entered that conclave carrying with them Wojtyla’s book “Sign of Contradiction.” And the Polish cardinal quickly received the conservative votes initially intended for Siri.
According to the commonly accepted version – which Burkle-Young accepts on this point – Siri was defeated in part because of a hard-hitting interview he granted to the “Gazzetta del Popolo,” which was published, against his will, not after the beginning of the conclave but before it, permitting the cardinals to read it and react negatively.
But it is more plausible that Siri granted that interview precisely because he knew he stood no chance in the conclave, and wanted to emphasize how his key ideas differed from the prevailing ones.
But this all just a matter of conjecture. And the more recent the conclave, the more the reconstructions of it correspond to the expectations and calculations of those who diffuse them.
On the eve of the last conclave, most of the forecasts released through the media were made of wishful thinking far from reality. It’s enough to consider how much good the storm of publicity did for the “progressive” candidacy of the archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi. The most votes he received in the conclave were 2: on this point, curiously, all of the sources are in agreement.
But even after the conclave, the reconstructions gradually being released must be read with great caution. The obligation of secrecy requires that the cardinals remain silent, or at the most resort to hints and circumlocutions that by their nature must be interpreted. It’s not necessarily true that someone is more objective and credible because he is more talkative. And the numbers themselves can be interpreted in different ways, as the votes attributed to Bergoglio demonstrate.
As for anonymous diaries, the greatest caution must be exercised here – and even more so when these are currents of opposition directed against the present pontiff.