Speaking with La Stampa newspaper last January 29, Pope Francis returned to the Conclave that elected him Pope. He recounted some known information, such as the applause for him after his speech about the “outgoing” Church. He defined that applause as “unprecedented” and said, “That speech was my condemnation.” And then he commented: “I didn’t realize the campaign that was starting to elect me.”

The information on the emerging campaign for his election is entirely new.

At least, Pope Francis had not spoken about it previously. Indeed, there had been plenty of denials when Austen Ivereigh, in his biography of Pope Francis, The Great Reformer, had spoken of a “Team Bergoglio” that would have pushed for Bergoglio’s election as Pope.

The controversy about “Team Bergoglio” originated from The Daily Telegraph, certainly not a Catholic or conservative newspaper, and promptly spread throughout the blogosphere. Ivereigh argued that the cardinals who had supported Bergoglio already in 2005, such as Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Walter Kasper, and Karl Lehman, had learned the lesson, were organized, and first of all, “they secured his assent” (meaning, of Bergoglio). According to Ivereigh, Bergoglio himself replied that in such a crisis for the Church, no cardinal could refuse if asked.

In a tweet (as they were called at the time), Ivereigh then clarified: “They secured his assent.” (p. 355). It should have read, “They believed he would not oppose his election.” I Will amend it in future editions.

In the press interview, Pope Francis speaks of an English-speaking cardinal who “saw me and exclaimed: ‘What you said is beautiful! Handsome. Handsome. We need a Pope like you.” These words reflect the description of Murphy O’Connor, who also told him to be careful because, this time, it would be his turn.

However, when speaking about an emerging campaign, Pope Francis is partly naive and partly … not.

Naïve, because talking about a campaign supposes or implies that there was an interest in his name anyway, as it is natural for it to be and as it is natural for it never to be revealed. It is obvious that any agreement before the Conclave for the election of a Pope is not only illicit but involves ex-communication. It is also evident that the cardinals sniff each other before the election, trying to have an idea of who and how they will choose, and they are also guided by instinct. Above all, they attempt to talk to each other.

At the same time, speaking of a “campaign that was being born” presupposes that that campaign was born within the general congregations, i.e., the pre-conclave meetings, and not before, as they had not come up with a name to promote before. This ensures the validity of the Conclave that elected him, assuming that one can consider a conclave invalid where all the cardinals present have accepted and at least two-thirds supported the election.

The real question, however, concerns the Pope and why he has returned to talking about the Conclave that elected him eleven years ago. Pope Francis spoke about it, almost anticipating what should be in a biographical book on his life and the events that characterized it and the world, which will be published in various languages in the coming months.

It is generally tricky for Popes to talk about the Conclave that elected them, except in very vague terms. Pope Francis, however, wants to return, and this seems to be part of the need to legitimize his reform efforts at a moment that appears to be particularly critical.

In recent times, Pope Francis seems to have accelerated on many issues in an effort at reform with no precedent in this pontificate. The statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Fiducia Supplicans was a watershed moment. Because the declaration was not well received by many, several episcopal conferences felt obliged to make theological clarifications. But the Pope defended it by even speaking of ideological minorities and branding the African episcopates, the most reluctant to receive the text, as “a different case” because “for them, homosexuality is a bad thing from the cultural point of view.”

In the interview with La Stampa, Francis’ words echo those of Cardinal Fernandez, who defended the statement in several interviews by claiming that those who criticized the statement had not understood. At this point, further polarization has been created in the Church: those who understand the Pope and his initiatives and those who do not understand him. There seems to be no space for critical comment, at least when reading the responses because the reaction is not a further argument but a personal attack.

If Fiducia Supplicans is a watershed, it should be considered that Traditionis Custodes, which revoked the liberalization of the celebration of the traditional Mass, was another watershed. Then, the Pope announced the measures against Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, which took place privately but with the certainty that they would be disclosed. There was a request for Cardinal Angelo Becciu to resign because the Pope did not trust him. The season of trials is still underway in the Vatican, each with a story yet to be defined.

Every action of the Pope seems designed to contrast what was there before and what is happening now in the Church. Suppose there was no real campaign for his election. However, a media campaign has supported this line since the beginning of the pontificate, and it would be understandable why. It takes balance and also understanding to read the facts. And, with all conscience, it cannot be said that everything was going well in the Church before Pope Francis, nor that everything was corrupt, backward, or not in step with the times.

If the Pope goes back to his election, it is because his election also came with a mandate for reform that he is claiming for himself. Going back to the election, however, also means remembering the themes that came out in the meetings of the cardinals, all of them in shock because they were called to face a scenario they had never foreseen: the resignation of a Pope.

There was the idea that the renunciation had been brought about by corruption. It came from some complex situations, even if over-emphasized in the media – especially the Italian media – such as the suspension of ATM payments in the Vatican, and from a solid media campaign all aimed at attacking the sovereignty of the Holy See. It was a campaign that touched on financial issues and was born in the Italian context precisely because the Holy See had abandoned its ties with Italy, had become European and international, and had developed its anti-money laundering law.

It all sounds technical, and it is. But it is precisely from that campaign that the need for a narrative change was born upon renunciation. We no longer remember the Church’s impact in the world of Benedict XVI, published by the Financial Times, of the encyclicals that created debate and were also sold in secular bookstores. The attacks came because the Church is authoritative and independent. Still, the perception is that the Church needs to change her image if she does not want to end up in the media meat grinder again, as happened in 2010 when, constantly and continuously, on the eve of the priestly year, cases of actual or presumed abuse were popping up like mushrooms.

Suppose Bergoglio was a candidate already in 2005, and a diary of that Conclave had already been published in the early years of Benedict XVI. In that case, in this new situation, it is easy to propose him again as a candidate, with the need to promote a break. A cryptic phrase is leaked among the indiscretions: “Four years of Bergoglio could be enough.”

It is a phrase that gives an indication but cannot define the duration of the pontificate. We are in the eleventh year of his pontificate, and probably few expected the various breaking points that this pontificate would touch. Above all, few thought that Pope Francis would not allow himself to be changed by the pontificate.

But so it was: Bergoglio and Francis are the same thing; the approach is always the pragmatic, practical one, leading to the decision to make reforms on the go. After all, it is an elegant way to allow everyone to discuss, argue, and even reform and then intervene clearly, even taking completely opposite or surprising positions.

Pope Francis’ pontificate is now moving towards increasingly divisive decisions and with approaches that mark a breaking point with the tradition of the Holy See, both from a diplomatic point of view (look at the recent declarations on the situation in Ukraine and the Holy Land, and how he accepted China’s position on the appointment of bishops) and from a government point of view.

Perhaps Pope Francis will not change doctrine, but leave room for vague interpretations, so that every minor crisis becomes an opportunity for those interested in opening a new debate, in trying to question the pillars of faith, doctrine, and discipline. Think of how people started talking about giving up celibacy of priests and to do so even a familiar story was used, of a priest from Avellino who left the priesthood because he was in love with a woman.

Returning to that Conclave also serves to remember why Pope Francis was elected. The need was felt to improve, even revolutionize, the image of the Church. In the end, the pontificate greatly exalted the image of the Pope. The Church, however, is still considered full of corruption and corrupt people. And Pope Francis, to overcome this vision, is forced, as he said, to make decisions “on the altar of hypocrisy.”

The lesson of the 2013 Conclave leads to the current scenario. And it cannot fail to be taken into consideration in the coming Conclave.


2 Responses to Pope Francis and the campaign that elected him

  1. [...] GagliarducciMonday Vatican5 février [...]

  2. James Scott scrive:

    That the current pontificate has been singularly sterile is a given.

    In the almost 11 years of its existence, the tsunami of Church decline has continued unabated in Europe and the USA. Not a single convert to the Church based on the multiple, innovative and sinner-friendly teachings of Francis has, to my knowledge, been reported in the main stream media; media which have however proven viscerally well disposed to his personality cult from the word go and which would certainly have reported any such conversions had they existed.

    Even worse, the vile scandal of depraved conduct by clerical sexual predators which had stained the Church so deeply for 2 or 3 decades beforehand has, almost unbelievably, been incorporated directly into the Papal household due to Pope Francis’s proclivity for believing, protecting and even promoting knaves; as evidenced by a host of names including Danneels, McCarrick, Borras, Zanchetta and Rupnik.

    The latter remains, to the stupefaction of Catholics, a ‘priest in good standing’ under the Holy Father’s ever more indulgent by the day paternal protection.

    Then there’s the finances. The promotion of Becciu whom the Holy Father never for a moment noticed to be a crook; despite an endless number of private meetings they had. And also there’s the explicit defiance in China of the teaching of Vatican 2 to the effect that the power to appoint bishops was never again to be offered to state governments.

    Only the question of the next conclave remains.

    The article highlights the danger of an illicit campaign to choose the next Pope; not that any of the senior cardinals involved in the St Gallen Mafia appear to have had the slightest qualms about indulging in such tactics.

    The current addled pontificate does, one hopes, sound the death-knell for the ultra-montaigne pretensions of the papacy which have been used by the current incumbent to such pernicious effect.

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