The story from the Sistine Chapel on Pope Francis' election
VATICAN CITY On the night of March 10, Fr. Thomas Rosica was walking through the Piazza Navona in Rome's historic center when he bumped into Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whom he has known for years. Bergoglio was walking alone, wearing a simple black cassock, and he stopped and grabbed Rosica's hands.
"I want you to pray for me," the Argentine cardinal told Rosica, a Canadian priest who was assisting as a Vatican spokesman during the papal interregnum. Rosica asked him if he was nervous. "A little bit," Bergoglio said.
He had reason to be worried. Two days later, on Tuesday evening, he and 114 other cardinals entered the conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI; a little more than 24 hours and five ballots after that, Bergoglio emerged on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica as Pope Francis.
It was a surprising outcome, and even if Bergoglio suspected something was up, few others did, including many of the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel with him.
"I think it all came together in an extraordinary fashion," Chicago Cardinal Francis George told the Chicago Tribune.
George said Bergoglio's name had not surfaced as an option in the week of closed-door discussions among the cardinals before the conclave, and Bergoglio had also dropped off the radar of most journalists. He was 76, and many cardinals said they would not vote for someone older than 70. Bergoglio was also reportedly the runner-up to Benedict in the conclave of 2005 and unlikely to return as a candidate.
"I wouldn't have expected it to happen either this fast or even the way it developed in terms of the choices available to us," George said. "I believe the Holy Spirit makes clear which way we should go. And we went that way very quickly."
The Holy Spirit, yes, but other forces also contributed to the unexpected result. And despite the cone of silence that is supposed to remain over all proceedings inside the conclave, leaks in the Italian press and interviews with various cardinal electors have begun to give a clearer picture of how this 28-hour conclave unfolded.
What happened, in short, is that during the first "shake out" ballot Tuesday evening, Bergoglio's name drew a surprising number of votes, suddenly putting him out there as a potential candidate.
"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," Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn told reporters.
Until then, the field had been considered fairly open, with two main camps each looking for a champion: There were those who wanted a pope who would reform the Roman Curia, the papal bureaucracy -- and preferably someone from outside Europe to represent the church's demographic shift to the Southern Hemisphere. Then there were the electors who wanted to defend the Curia, and they were joined by some who also hoped to keep the papacy in Europe, or even return it to an Italian.
The "reform" camp had no clear champion but a dozen or more possibilities. They reportedly wanted someone from outside Europe, in particular a Latin American, but weren't sure who.
The Roman camp, on the other hand, had apparently begun to lean toward Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, who was born of German immigrant parents and had long experience in the Curia. That made him a plausible Southern Hemisphere candidate, but one with strong European and curial ties.
In the days leading up to the conclave, however, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan had increasingly emerged as an apparent front-runner because he was seen as an Italian who could fix the Vatican, a combination some said could attract votes from both camps.
An appealing combination
Throughout this wrangling, Bergoglio had maintained a low profile, which was in keeping with his reputation for humility and holiness, and several electors said they found that refreshing. Moreover, Bergoglio had a fierce pastoral dedication to the poor, and he was born in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents. While he is 76, he is in good health but not so young that he is likely have a marathon pontificate.
All those elements made for an appealing combination.
"He is not part of the Italian system, but also at the same time, because of his culture and background, he was Italo-compatible," French Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois told reporters. "If there was a chance that someone could intervene with justice in this situation" -- reforming the Curia -- "he was the man who could do it best."
In the first round of voting, not only did Bergoglio make an unexpectedly strong showing, but Scola did not fare well, and neither did Scherer or another leading contender, Canadian Marc Ouellet, who works in the Curia.
That night, sequestered at the Casa Santa Marta residence that houses the cardinals during a conclave, the reform camp began to coalesce around Bergoglio. The Argentine continued to gain strength during the two ballots Wednesday morning. At lunch, he "seemed very weighed down by what was happening," according to Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who sat next to him.
According to La Repubblica, an Italian daily with good sources in the Vatican, Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl played a key role in rallying the Americans to Bergoglio, and they were followed by European bishops such as Vingt-Trois.
As Bergoglio gained steam, Scola's fortunes continued to decline, thanks also to "ancient envies and rivalries," as La Stampa's Giacomo Galeazzi put it, among the 28 Italian electors -- a bloc far larger than any other country's, but also more fractious and "inexorably hostile to Scola."
"In the last few hours there were signs that Scola's strong candidacy was a giant with clay feet," Galeazzi wrote.
No Italian restoration
By the fourth ballot Wednesday -- the fifth since the conclave had begun -- Bergoglio passed the threshold of 77 votes on his way to upward of 90 votes out of 115. It was just before 7 p.m., a little more than 24 hours since they started, and the Catholic church had a new pope.
"I was surprised that consensus among the cardinals was reached so soon," said Ireland's Cardinal Sean Brady.
Also surprised, apparently, was the Italian bishops' conference, which was so sure Scola would win it sent out a message of congratulations to Scola on his election as soon as the white smoke appeared over the Sistine Chapel.
Yet there was to be no Italian restoration.
"You don't ask why they changed their votes. Nor do you know who changed their votes. But it became fairly clear as we voted that perhaps it was going to go in some other unexpected way, but more quickly also," George said. "There are surprises. That's a sign of the Holy Spirit, I think."
Snub of Reformers’ Choice Seen Before Pope’s Anointing
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
Published: March 14, 2013
ROME — The choice of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope was so surprising, the Italian bishops sent out an e-mail congratulating the wrong man. His profile was so low that he was barely mentioned by the feverish handicappers and Vaticanologists who make their living scrutinizing the Holy See. But the Argentine emerged from the conclave a swiftly anointed Pope Francis on Wednesday evening, barely 28 hours after it began.
While the workings of the conclave are secret, Cardinal Bergoglio won the papacy, according to comments from cardinals, Vatican experts and leaks to Italian newspapers, in part because the Vatican-based cardinals protective of their bureaucracy snubbed the presumptive front-runner, and a favored candidate of reformers, Cardinal Angelo Scola.
That created an opening for a Latin-American Jesuit whose attractive mix of piety, humility and administrative skills won over many cardinals, including those intent on addressing the Vatican’s recent troubles with corruption and disarray in the Vatican hierarchy, or Curia. Still, it remains to be seen how, and if, Francis will fulfill those hopes.
“By choosing Bergoglio we chose someone who was not in the Curia system, because of his mission and his ministry,” said Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, in a news conference. “He is not part of the Italian system, but also at the same time, because of his culture and background, he was Italo-compatible. If there was a chance that someone could intervene with justice in this situation, he was the man who could do it best.”
Francis’ immediate march to the papacy, to draw a rough analogy, began with the all-inclusive meetings of cardinals called congregations that occurred before the conclave. They function roughly like primary season in United States presidential elections. The cardinals all give speeches — about 150 this time — talk among themselves and size one another up.
Cardinal Bergoglio “talked about the need of the church to stay focused on her mission, the spiritual mission,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, said in a briefing for a few reporters. “He always, always has a preferential option for the poor.” That seemed to strike a chord.
At the same time, he kept a low profile ahead of the conclave, making few public appearances or statements. Giving the appearance of holding oneself out as a possible pope is one of the worst political mistakes ahead of a conclave, and he avoided it. He may have had good reason, given his prominent place in the last conclave, in 2005.
The most authoritative accounts of that election suggest Cardinal Bergoglio garnered the second most votes to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the penultimate round. Then, at lunch, he was said to have thrown his votes to Cardinal Ratzinger, who was quickly elected Benedict XVI. Some accounts suggest he did not want to be pope; others, that he knew he did not have a chance of winning.
Renunciation is not unheard-of. “People say, ‘Don’t consider me,’ ” said Chicago’s archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, in an interview, and that was the case this time as well. “Some people were very disturbed by the idea” that they might be considered for pope, he said.
“He’s someone who was looked at who could do the office, particularly in light of the challenges that we now face,” he added. “First thing is, ‘Is he a man of the faith who connects us to Christ?’ Next, ‘Can he govern?’ ” The church needs “a revision to the way things work in the Curia,” Cardinal George said. “That impacts our own diocesan curias.”
The third factor, he said, was “the fact that he has a heart for the poor.”
It is difficult to know whether his role in the last conclave had an effect on the thinking of his fellow 114 cardinals this week, 47 of whom took part in the 2005 balloting. An unwritten rule holds that a second-place finisher should not be chosen pope because it could be seen as a slight to the previous pope. But Benedict’s resignation at 85, the first of a pope in 598 years, may have changed that thinking.
Cardinal Bergoglio apparently went through the first round of voting, which took place on Tuesday evening, into the conclave as a leading vote-getter, but a number of other eminences garnered some votes, which were handwritten on Latin ballots with Pilot gel pens. Carlo Marroni, who covers the Vatican for Il Sole 24 Ore, reported that Cardinal Bergoglio, Cardinal Scola and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada were the leaders.
Ignazio Ingrao, the Vatican expert for the newsweekly Panorama, said that at the beginning cardinals voted for a number of individuals as a “courtesy vote.” But, “Then they went fairly quickly to Bergoglio,” he said. Private conversations in the evening helped put the focus on him, analysts said.
In the final round of voting, the future Francis hit 77 — the required two-thirds minimum — before all the votes were counted. Applause broke out, several cardinals said, but the counting continued for completeness. He ended up with “more than sufficient” votes to win, the Brazilian cardinal, Geraldo Majella Agnelo, said. The final tally was kept secret.
Cardinal Scola went into the conclave with a solid block of votes, including many of the Americans and Europeans, who saw in him an Italian who was nevertheless at a distance from the intrigues of the Vatican. But it quickly became apparent this was not going to be enough, particularly given what news reports said was the opposition of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the powerful secretary of state under Benedict.
“The rapidity with which the choice of Bergoglio was arrived at confirms that the votes that Scola could count on immediately became insufficient,” wrote Massimo Franco, the Vatican expert for the daily Corriere della Sera. The numbers also tell a tale: Latin America had 19 electors, second only to Europe’s 61, and Cardinal Bergoglio may have gotten strong support from the region.
While Cardinal Bertone failed to give him support, Cardinal Scola certainly had his share of believers in the Italian Bishops Conference — it sent out a message congratulating him on becoming pope 20 minutes after Francis was named. The conference later blamed a technical glitch.
“The Argentine archbishop was elected after the third balloting when Angelo Scola had sent his votes toward him,” wrote Paolo Rodari, La Repubblica’s Vaticanista.
Another source of surprise was Bergoglio’s age, 76. A number of cardinals had suggested that a younger man was needed — in the early 60s range — especially after a pope resigned because of waning strength in old age.
Cardinal Bergoglio’s age may have cut both ways, said Mr. Ingrao, the Vatican expert for Panorama. Reformers may have believed it would motivate him to act quickly, while cardinals favoring the status quo may have hoped his papacy would be too short to effect much change.
“So there were thoughts about looking to someone much younger,” said Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux. “But there were two reasons” to choose Cardinal Bergoglio, he said. “First it was his personality that was the determiner. The other thing was that we remembered that we had popes like John XXIII who was old but he was decisive for the evolution of the church. So the question of age wasn’t such a big factor.”
The first public view of Francis was on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he asked the crowd in the piazza for their blessing and then wished them a good rest, earning praise from many Catholics for his humble bearing and choice to name himself after the beloved St. Francis of Assisi.
On Thursday, his first full day as pope, he prayed at the St. Mary Major Basilica and passed by the clergy residence — where he stayed before the conclave — to pick up his luggage and pay the bill.
“I think this is the style of our new pope,” Cardinal Ricard said.
Elisabetta Povoledo and Rachel Donadio contributed reporting.
A version of this article appeared in print on March 15, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Choice of Pope Said to Follow Snubbing of Reform Favorite.
Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope
Argentines who want their country to be the next Venezuela see Francis as an obstacle.
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
Argentines celebrated last week when one of their own was chosen as the new pope. But they also suffered a loss of sorts. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a tireless advocate of the poor and outspoken critic of corruption, will no longer be on hand locally to push back against the malfeasance of the government of President Cristina Kirchner.
Argentines not aligned with the regime hope that the arrival of Francis on the world stage at least will draw attention to this issue. Heaven knows the situation is growing dire.
One might have expected a swell of pride from Argentine officialdom when the news broke that the nation has produced a man so highly esteemed around the world. Instead the Kirchner government's pit bulls in journalism—men such as Horacio Verbitsky, a former member of the guerrilla group known as the Montoneros and now an editor at the pro-government newspaper Pagina 12—immediately began a campaign to smear the new pontiff's character and reputation at home and in the international news media.
The calumny is not new. Former members of terrorist groups like Mr. Verbitsky, and their modern-day fellow travelers in the Argentine government, have used the same tactics for years to try to destroy their enemies—anyone who doesn't endorse their brand of authoritarianism. In this case they allege that as the Jesuits' provincial superior in Argentina in the late 1970s, then-Father Bergoglio had links to the military government.
This is propaganda. Mrs. Kirchner and her friends aren't yet living in the equivalent of a totalitarian state where there is no free press to counter their lies. That day may come soon. The government is now pressuring merchants, under threat of reprisals, not to buy advertising in newspapers. The only newspapers that aren't on track to be financially ruined by this intimidation are those that the government controls and finances through official advertising, like Mr. Verbitsky's Pagina 12. Argentines refer to the paper as "the official gazette" because it so reliably prints the government's line.
Intellectually honest observers with firsthand knowledge of Argentina under military rule (1976-1983) are telling a much different story than the one pushed by Mr. Verbitsky and his ilk. One of those observers is Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize. Last week he told BBC Mundo that "there were bishops that were complicit with the dictatorship, but Bergoglio, no." As to the charge that the priest didn't do enough to free junta prisoners, Mr. Pérez Esquivel said: "I know personally that many bishops who asked the military government for the liberation of prisoners and priests and it was not granted."
Former Judge Alicia Oliveira, who was herself fired by the military government and forced into hiding to avoid arrest, told the Argentine newspaper Perfil last week that during those dark days she knew Father Bergoglio well and that "he helped many people get out of the country." In one case, she says there was a young man on the run who happened to look like the Jesuit. "He gave him his identification card and his [clergy attire] so that he could escape."
Ms. Oliveira also told Perfil that when she was in hiding at the home of the current minister of security, Nilda Garré, the two of them "ate with Bergoglio." As Ms. Oliveira pointed out, Ms. Garré "therefore knows all that he did."
Graciela Fernández Meijide, a human-rights activist and former member of the national commission on the disappearance of persons, told the Argentine press last week that "of all the testimony I received, never did I receive any testimony that Bergoglio was connected to the dictatorship."
None of this matters to those trying to turn Argentina into the next Venezuela. What embitters them is that Father Bergoglio believed that Marxism (and the related "liberation theology") was antithetical to Christianity and refused to embrace it in the 1970s. That put him in the way of those inside the Jesuit order at the time who believed in revolution. It also put him at odds with the Montoneros, who were maiming, kidnapping and killing civilians in order to terrorize the population. Many of those criminals are still around and hold fast to their revolutionary dreams.
For them, the new pope remains a meddlesome priest. In the slums where the populist Mrs. Kirchner claims to be a champion of the poor, Francis is truly beloved because he lives the gospel. From the pulpit, with the Kirchners in the pews, he famously complained of self-absorbed politicians. He didn't name names, but the shoe fit. Nestór Kirchner, the late president and Cristina's husband, responded by naming him "the head of the opposition."
As Ms. Fernández Meijide observed last week, "I have the impression that what bothers the current president is that Bergoglio would not get in line, that he denounces the continuation of extreme poverty." That's not the regime's approved narrative.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
A version of this article appeared March 18, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope.