Jorge Bergoglio and the secret history of the 2005 Conclave that almost made him Pope

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the Vatican when he still did not imagine that one day he would become Pope (REUTERS/Paolo Cocco) (Paolo Cocco/)

The death of John Paul IIon April 2, 2005, would unexpectedly leave Jorge bergoglio at the gates of the Papacy, although in principle he had not been among the candidates. In Rome, before the Conclave on April 18, the Argentine priest had called attention to his absence. While other cardinals gave reports to Corriere della Sera either La Repubblica and they participated in cocktail parties in embassies or private residences to introduce themselves, meet other cardinals and exchange views on the future of the Church, Bergoglio was secluded in the international hotel of the Clergy Via della Scrofa, refused interviews and did not go to events.

Only the newspaper the world placed him on a list of five candidates. The hypothesis worried the Argentine government. If the cardinal became pope, his criticism of the government would reach a global dimension. “God save us…”some officials said.

On tour in Germany, the Argentine president Nestor Kirchnerwho had not participated in the funeral of John Paul II, decided to attend the enthronement of the new Pontiff.

Unlike Argentina, the Brazilian president Lula da Silva transformed the Franciscan cardinal claudio hummes in “state candidate”. Lula traveled to Rome with his predecessors Fernando Enrique Cardoso, Itamar Franco and Joseph Sarney to consolidate your support

The then Cardinal Bergoglio, in 2008, traveling in a subway in Buenos Aires (AP)
The then Cardinal Bergoglio, in 2008, traveling in a subway in Buenos Aires (AP) (AP /)

The ambassador to the Holy See, Charles Custer, led to an informal meeting, just a courtesy greeting, between the President and the cardinal. He imagined an informal meeting on the fourth floor of Via del Banco di Santo Spirito 42, the private residence of the Argentine embassy, ​​in which they would greet each other and leave together for the ceremony. But Bergoglio did not consider it necessary and Kirchner did not accept it.

Rather than reach out to the cardinal, the government preferred to consolidate the “black legend” for his alleged performance during the dictatorship to convey the idea that it would be a “world scandal” for the Church if they elected him.

The government’s policy was in tune with the articles that it had begun to publish in the newspaper in recent months. Page 12 the journalist Horacio Verbitsky, in which doubts were sown about the alleged complicity of the former Jesuit Provincial with the dictatorship in the kidnapping of priests Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio.

Jorge Bergolgio- Nestor Kirchner
Bergoglio with the then Argentine President Néstor Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the Metropolitan Cathedral (NA)

The negative image that they created about Bergoglio was useful to his circle of enemies who had weight in the Roman curia. With well-oiled ecclesiastical logistics, the salient points of the “accusations” reached the personal emails of the cardinals and the congregations of the Holy See.

Was it an operation by the Argentine embassy to the Holy See? From some Argentine functionary of the Roman curia? From a layman, with Vatican influence, who had access to personal addresses of cardinals?

Bergoglio had fewer doubts. The father Guillermo Marcospokesman for the Archbishopric of Buenos Aires, who accompanied Bergoglio in Rome, indicated that the cardinal suspected the participation of Esteban Caselli, former secretary of Worship, and the most influential Argentine in the Vatican up to that time, without holding any episcopal dignity.

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conlave 2005
The 115 cardinals of the Catholic Church enter the Sistine Chapel to begin deliberations to elect a new Pope on April 18, 2005 at the Vatican, Vatican City (Arturo Mari/ Getty Images) (Pool/)

To the journalistic denunciations that reached the cardinals’ mail, the judicial denunciation was added. The filing reached the Argentine federal courts on Friday, April 15, 2005, when the Sistine Chapel was already prepared for the smoke. It required the courts to investigate the criminal responsibility that “could fit” to Bergoglio in the “illegitimate deprivation of liberty” of Yorio and Jalics in the framework of the ESMA case. The complaint, presented by the lawyer Marcelo Parrilli, was based on Verbitsky’s notes in Page 12 and attached as “documentary evidence” two of them.

(The judges of the ESMA case would take a statement from Bergoglio as a witness in the Archbishopric on November 8, 2010. Three years later, when the sailors were sentenced for the kidnapping of Yorio and Jalics, Bergoglio was not charged. Judge Germán Castelli he claimed: “It is totally false to say that Jorge Bergoglio delivered those priests. We analyzed it, we listened to that version, we saw the evidence and we understood that his actions had no legal implications in these cases. Otherwise, we would have denounced it”).

Bergoglio attributed the ultimate goal of the complaint to justice to different parts of the same attack. He linked Verbitsky’s articles and the operations of his intrachurch enemies who distributed them in the Vatican with one ultimate purpose: “government hate.”

conclave 2005
Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the first candidate in the estimates of the Vaticanists, but his figure was subject to a process of attrition. Ratzinger was unable to unlock the opposition of cardinals from Germany and the United States (Arturo Mari – Vatican Pool/ Getty Images) (Pool/)

Before the Conclave, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the first candidate in the estimates of the Vaticanists, but his figure was subject to a process of attrition. Ratzinger was unable to unblock the opposition of cardinals from Germany and the United States, countries that, precisely, collected the largest donations to support the Church. His 78 years could be an obstacle —his election would give the image of an aging Church— but what most discouraged the cardinals of those countries was the presumption that, with Ratzinger, Rome would continue as it was: with its centralism to the detriment of the autonomy of local churches and discussions on communion for the divorced and remarried, closed.

The hypothesis of a Pontificate with a German Pope and an eventual Italian Secretary of State, moreover, would only reinforce the power of the Roman curia over the Pontificate. Those who aspired to ecclesial renewal in this new stage wanted the Second World War and the Cold War, the world of Nazis, allies and communists, communists and Americans, that had marked the life of John Paul II, to be definitively buried in the Pontificate. . Ratzinger had also been part of that world.

But while it was admitted that John Paul II had neglected Rome, concerned about the “Soviet enemy”, a government was now needed to order it. And it was thought that with Ratzinger, accompanied by an Italian Secretary of State, a suitable duo could be composed for the Vatican government. Actually, the Roman curia, rather than renewing itself, sought to strengthen itself. French Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran explained it in a meeting with diplomats at his country’s embassy: “The Pontiff has to be someone from inside the Vatican. The Holy See has to remain in the hands of the people it knows. Someone who knows…”

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Casa Santa Marta of the Vatican
At noon on Tuesday, April 19, at lunch at Casa Santa Marta, inside the Vatican state, Bergoglio faced the possibility of being Pope for the first time. He added around 40 votes

vote for renewal —which in fact meant the vote against Ratzinger— focused on Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martinibut his progressive Alzheimer’s prevented him from aspiring to the succession.

However, on Monday, April 18, in the count of the first day of the Conclave, Martini reached thirty votes, ten fewer than Ratzinger.

When the opposition to the German cardinal had already been reflected, Martini suggested that his support should migrate to the Argentine cardinal, and then Bergoglio’s candidacy took effect in the second and third ballots: he placed himself ten or fifteen votes below Ratzinger, who was still far from reaching 77 votes, two-thirds of the College of Cardinals, which demanded his nomination.

At noon on Tuesday, April 19, at lunch at Casa Santa Marta, within the Vatican state, Bergoglio faced the possibility of being Pope for the first time. She added around 40 votes.

Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio
Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio

Bergoglio was ten years younger than Ratzinger and made a good impression among the cardinals, but he was aware that his votes had no foundation of their own, but were sustained by opposition to Ratzinger.

At lunchtime, the Argentine cardinal implied that he preferred not to fight the battle for the Papacy In those terms, he was anguished by the idea of ​​assuming a Pontificate with a Church divided in two.

In the fourth vote of the Conclave, the opposition front dispersed and Ratzinger reached 84 votes which were enough for him to be consecrated Pontiff.

“I have never needed so much prayer in my life as Tuesday morning”the Argentine cardinal would comment one day after the appointment of Benedict XVI.

For the Argentine government it was a relief.

However, that same year, Bergoglio, recognized in the Vatican, would also be recognized among the local bishops. He was elected president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference for a period of three years. He became the first interlocutor of the Catholic hierarchy with political power and society.

Marcelo Larraquy is a journalist and historian (UBA). He is the author of Pray for him. The untold story of the man who defies the secrets of the Vatican and the Francis Code. How the Pope became the first global political leader and what is his strategy to change the world. Both edited by Editorial Sudamericana

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