UK cardinal led lobbying group which won Papacy for Francis

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, helped to orchestrate a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign which led to the election of Pope Francis, a new biography claims.

by John Bingham

The choice of the largely-unknown Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics came as a surprise to Vatican watchers and the faithful alike when the announcement was made in March last year.

The College of Cardinals meeting for their formal pre-conclave meetings. 5 March 2013.
The College of Cardinals meeting for their formal pre-conclave meetings. 5 March 2013.

When 76-year-old Bergoglio emerged as Pope on only the second day of voting, it was largely explained as a unity candidacy to prevent deadlock between rival factions.

But a biography of Pope Francis, to be published next month, discloses that there had been a discreet, but highly organised, campaign by a small group of European cardinals in support of Cardinal Bergoglio.

The Great Reformer, by the British Catholic writer Austen Ivereigh, nicknamed the group “Team Bergoglio” and said members toured private dinners and other gatherings of cardinals in the days before the conclave, quietly putting their case.

Cardinal Bergoglio was effectively the runner-up in the 2005 conclave, in which Joseph Ratzinger was elected, having been put forward by an alliance of mainly European reformists.

In 2013 the European reformers again tried to get their man elected to the Vatican’s highest office.

“Spotting their moment, the initiative was now seized by the European reformers who in 2005 had pushed for Bergoglio,” Mr Ivereigh, who once served as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s press secretary, explains in the book.

Pope Francis with Cardinal Cormac-Murphy O'Connor
Pope Francis with Cardinal Cormac-Murphy O’Connor

He wrote that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, then 80 and no longer with a vote in the conclave, teamed up with the German cardinal Walter Kasper, whose controversial call for remarried divorcees to be allowed to receive communion was one of the main points of division at the synod that Pope Francis held in Rome this year.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor – whose parents emigrated from Co Cork to Britain before World War I – had a vital role to play, included lobbying his North American counterparts.

“They had learnt their lessons from 2005,” Mr Ivereigh explains. “They first secured Bergoglio’s assent. Asked if he was willing, he said that he believed that at this time of crisis for the Church no cardinal could refuse if asked.

“Murphy-O’Connor knowingly warned him to ‘be careful’, and that it was his turn now, and was told ‘capisco’ – ‘I understand’.

“Then they got to work, touring the cardinals’ dinners to promote their man, arguing that his age – 76 – should no longer be considered an obstacle, given that popes could resign.”

A key turning point came during the series of closed meetings before the conclave, known as congregations, when Cardinal Bergoglio gave a short but moving speech about the state of the Church.

© Telegraph Sunday Independent (23/11/2014)

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