Revisiting Pope Francis’ election

Par Don Pio Pace

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The book published by Gerard O’Connell, Rome correspondent to both the Jesuit magazine America and to the Canadian television network CTV, titled The Election of Pope Francis (Orbis Books, 2019), brings a number of new and accurate lights on the conclave of 2013.

Certainly, the long friendship between Gerard O’Connell, his wife and Jorge Bergoglio is such that the information he provides should be considered with some reservations: according to O’Connell, the Cardinal of Buenos Aires was coming to Rome, without the slightest idea that he could be elected (he had purchased his return ticket before Holy Week!); according to O’Connell again, Bergoglio did nothing that could resemble an electoral campaign (the kind of particular campaign which includes gathering of cardinals for a meal, establishing contacts, and denying many times having the opportunity to be the elected cardinal of the conclave). On the other hand, G. O’Connell provides first-hand information obtained from those who attended the conclave (therefore, either violating the oath to secrecy they pledged upon entering the conclave, or having received, from the Sovereign pontiff, permission to disclose some of that information).

O’Connell confirms that all disorders and scandals regarding leaks that were revealed in the entourage of Benedict XVI during his pontificate weighted heavily on the choice of the cardinals. As a result, they wanted a man with an authoritarian character and who presented himself as a reformer of the Curia; indeed, to succeed a pope who was as if in a state of paralysis, whether self induced or not, it needed a pontiff whose orders would be obeyed. As a reminder, the cardinal who appeared as the best candidate for a compromise, in case enough votes could not be reached on a favorite, was Péter Erdö, Archbishop of Budapest.

G. O’Connell was in the situation to provide the result of 4 scrutinies which lead to the election of Pope Francis. We’ve added our commentaries to the results:

Tuesday 12 March, at the evening ballot which in the conclave is the equivalent of a primary:

Scola (Archbishop of Milan): 30

Bergoglio: 26

Ouellet (Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops): 22

O’Malley (Archbishop of Boston): 10

Scherer (Archbishop of São Paulo): 4

Cardinal Scola, the man of Benedict XVI Continuity and his quasi heir apparent[1], had less votes than expected (he was predicted 40 votes during the period of the pre-conclave), this apparently because of the strength of the Italian clan against Scola (Cardinals Bertone, Re, Cocopalmerio) who preferred to give their votes to Bergoglio, or to the other Ratzingerian in the race, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet. The surprise came from the high number of votes Cardinal Bergoglio received in the very first ballot. Strange surprise, indeed, for it is important to note that during the 2005 election, in the third ballot, Bergoglio had received 40 votes, versus Ratzinger, 72.

Wednesday 13 March, First ballot, in the morning:

Bergoglio: 45

Scola: 38

Ouellet: 24

O’Malley: 3

The great beneficiary to the transfer of votes was, thus, Bergoglio. Scola only won eight more votes and, most of all, it was clear that Ouellet did not asked his supporters to transfer their votes onto Scola. The game was over then, except if – in order to prevent two third of the votes (77) from falling onto Bergoglio – they were to resort to the old tactic of the blocking minority. The thing is, this tactic had never been implemented in recent conclaves.

Wednesday 13 March, 2nd ballot, in the morning:

Bergoglio: 56

Scola: 41

Ouellet: 14

The dynamic, from that moment on, was in favor of Bergoglio, and the continuous division of the Ratzingerian, between Ouellet and Scola, prevented from putting a stop to it.

Wednesday 13 March, evening ballot:

(knowing there were in fact two ballots, the first one being immediately nulled because 116 ballot papers were found in the urn-used chalice, when they should have found 115; indeed, there was an extra one).

Bergoglio: 85 – as in the 2005 conclave, when Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected with 84 votes, and on the 4th ballot as well.

Scola: 20

Ouellet: 8

It was 7:06pm. The white smoke could now come out and the great bell of Saint Peter could start ringing. The elected pope was 76 years-old, but his friends went on affirming the opinion expressed by the Archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa: Jorge Bergoglio was certainly quite old, but “four years of Bergoglio would be sufficient to change many things.”

Therefore there would be no Benedict XVII, even though some believed it for a few moments, after the Secretary of the Italian bishops’ Conference made the erroneous announcement Cardinal Scola had been elected.

The time of the “hermeneutic of continuity,” thus, was over. But, even if a Benedict XVII had been elected, one could wonder if Benedict XVI could have survived himself? It was often noticed that the theological discourse of Angelo Scola, though intellectual, lacked clarity. But, the discourse of Marc Ouellet, isn’t much better. In the presentation of Instrumentum Laboris of the synod on “The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church,” which took place in 2008 and which he authored, the Cardinal from Quebec said: “Thanks to the triune and christocentric vision of Vatican II, the Church renewed the conscience of its proper mystery and of its mission. The dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium and the pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes develop an ecclesiology of communion which relies on a renewed conception of the Revelation. […] The conciliar Fathers have put the emphasis on the dynamic and conversational dimension of the Revelation as personal auto-communication of God, etc.” Such hollowed speech can develop endlessly without any tangible benefits for the resurrection of Catholicism.

Wasn’t this Ratzingerian path, a path to reform, intrinsically weak, like Fr. Serafino Lanzetta points out in an article published 13 July 2020 on the Aldo Maria Valli blog, “Il Vaticano II e il Calvario della Chiesa,” in the fact that it believed it was necessary to interpret: “Relying on the hermeneutic to resolve the problem of the continuity is already a problem in itself. In claris non fit interpretatio, says the well known saying: if the continuity did not need to be proven through interpretation, there would be no need for an hermeneutic in itself?”

Pio Pace

1. Properly, in his interview-style autobiography with journalist Luigi Geninazzi (Ho scommesso sulla liberate. Autobiografia, Solferino, 2018 – I bet on freedom, Autobiography), Angelo Scola says he never really believed in the possibility of becoming pope.