Before the opening of the conclave on March 12, 2013, cardinals attend a solemn Mass at St. Peter's. Photo Courtesy of BostonCatholic via Flickr.

The story behind Pope Francis’ election

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Last Sunday night (March 10), the Rev. Thomas Rosica was walking through the Piazza Navona in Rome’s historic center when he bumped into Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who he has known for years. Bergoglio was walking alone, wearing a simple black cassock and he stopped and grabbed Rosica’s hands.

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday (March 13) in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday (March 13) in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

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“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 confessed.

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.

Unexpected momentum

francis george

(RNS3-feb13) Cardinal Francis George of Chicago defended the Catholic bishops' opposition to health care reform during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore. RNS photo courtesy Archdiocese of Chicago.

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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 on 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 Schoenborn 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 that some said could attract votes from both camps.

Before the opening of the conclave today, March 12, cardinals attend a solemn Mass at St. Peter's. Photo Courtesy of BostonCatholic via Flickr.

Before the opening of the conclave today, March 12, cardinals attend a solemn Mass at St. Peter's. Photo Courtesy of BostonCatholic via Flickr.

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 on 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.”

donald wuerl

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washinton. Photo courtesy George Martell/The Pilot Media Group.

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“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 on Wednesday -- the fifth since the conclave had begun -- Bergoglio passed the threshold of 77 votes on his way to upwards 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 that Scola would win that 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,” said George. “There are surprises. That's a sign of the Holy Spirit, I think.”



  1. “In the last few hours there were signs that Scola’s strong candidacy was a giant with clay feet,” This cardinal seems to be the “False Prophet ” that many talk about taking the Seat of rome and turning it over to the Anti-Christ. Pope Francis election was Just an another counter move by The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is definitively in charge!!! What a display of Heaven.
    Check-Mate was at Calvary. But the evil one persists. Yes!! It is all about God’s Creation/Life and the integrity of the human genome (no! genetically altered humans) and original genome (no gmo’s!) of HIS Creation! Pope Francis Knows Something..:) I am SO! happy to be a Catholic/Church Militant. I can be a “soldier of Christ for this POPE!

  2. Ave Maria !
    Man proposes,God disposes. Miilitant secular press,secular persons,secular world cannot influence the conclave.The Holy Spirit was evidently in control.
    We are living in interesting and historic time.Did the Cardinals in conclave not call for Him (VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS !)
    Ave Maria !
    Boy Charlie

  3. Renae: that comment about Scola being a false prophet is totally out of line. He was not chosen only because the Holy Spirit had other plans and all the cardinals prayed for His Guidance (the Holy Spirit) and received the answer that was His choice.

  4. Of course it was the Holy Spirit! What entity have we been praying to? God!
    This is a very very strong sign that the Holy Spirit is looking at the poor for sanctity not the rich! The rich are corrupted and this is the sign of the Holy Spirit for the rich Catholics to start giving everything they own to help the poor and to become poor and live in poverty themselves. It’s radical but our King and Savior Jesus Christ is radical, so was St. Francisco and St . Clare were radical in preferring extreme poverty to the false richness of the world which belongs to Satan the lieing prince of darkness. The Holy Spirit sees and knows who are the Catholics who are with the lukewarmness and just can not let go of their materials money. Fellow Catholics are afraid to death of poverty. There are Catholic Cardinals who are the same way. What St. Francisco taught was the Joy that over powers fhe suffering that comes with poverty and that is the Holy Spirit that gives that incredible joy. People who revolt and rebel against poverty resort to crime and of course that does not come from the Holy Spirit! Therefore Papa Francisco ( Pope Fransisco ) is Pope because God Willed it. May the Will of Almighty God be done and those who give up the riches and lead a life in true poverty be blessed now and for Eternity! Amen!

  5. I am south-american, but was rooting for the Brasilian cardinal.
    Now I am glad the Argentine got it. Notice that Buenos Aires means, ‘good breezes’ – The Holy spirit is indeed a comforting wind.

  6. If the Holy Spirit was responsible with elevating Pope Francis, the Holy Spirit was also responsible with the demise of Pope Benedict. The catholic church is in serious trouble. Even my diocese of Milwaukee is on the verge of bankruptcy.

    The reason the Italian cardinals were passed by is because of the homosexual scandal presently going on. This scandal is within the walls of the Vatican! Face the reality that Europe and the US are spiritually dying. Do you think the HS would “reward” any Europeans or Americans with the papacy?

    I pray to God that Pope Francis will clean up the den of inequity that is in and around the Vatican.

  7. I believe the Holy Spirit was present at the election of the previous Pope and present at the election of Pope Francis. Pope Benedict was also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit when he resigned. The Holy Spirit is also in charge of the situation today. Why are we all trying to analyse His moves and actions? We are in good hands.

  8. There is no “demise” of Pope Benedict. He was obeying the Holy Spirit in the recognition of his increasing incapacity to meet the demands of the papacy. There is nothing wrong about that.

  9. I think you have brought forth very possible thoughts to the selection of Blessed Pope Francis.

  10. I too believe the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

  11. I do NOT understand the joys many expressed by having a Latin American Pope
    This pope is NOT a friend of tradition. He is reputed to be an ardent OPPONENT
    of the Mass of ALL TIMES. Like his conciliar predecessors, he worries too much about the Jews and of other religions. Why doesn’t he first endeavour to create
    peace among his co-religionists, peace between the traditionalists and the liberals? The more I see and hear about him, the less I like him!

  12. Maybe one should consider Pope Francis is doing his best to emulate Jesus so he can get the world to love and follow him. Listen to his own words. He is clearly stating he is Peter. He told the cardinals at the end of their dinner “May God forgive you for what you have done.” Calling Patriarch Barthalomew “Brother Andrew”. Why? His name isn’t Andrew. Andrew was Peter’s brother. Choosing St. Peter for his fisherman’s ring. Stating he is going to take the church back to it’s roots (Peter).

    In short, if you look at everything he has said since his election, he keeps calling himself Peter, but not directly. Yes, I know that Peter was the first pope and all popes that followed him say he is the inheritor of Peter’s throne, but actually implying, over and over, that he is Peter?

    He is of Italian (Roman) blood and keeps telling people he is Peter. Read Malachy’s prophecy of the popes!

    He’s making people believe he is humble and like Christ, then turn on us and show who he truly is…The Antichrist! Don’t be fooled!

  13. Yes, I can see this humble man of 76 years, having worked many years on building this false face, to gain all of our trust and then lower the boom. Everyone is intiltled to their opinion, regardless of how ridiculos it may be.

  14. Who are we to question the results of Conclave? If there is one amoung you that has a private revelation, say so. Otherwise, judge the new pope if you must, not by your suspicions, but by his actions.

  15. Satan has been running the Catholic Church from the beginning. You only have to look at the state of the world to know what power he has over the masses of people. Don’t be fooled this is his church!

  16. There are plenty of signs to point to the fact that the entire consistory was orchestrated. It is implied elsewhere that Bergoglio was the runner-up to Benedict. There were forces at work who forced the abdication of Benedict and opened the way for Bergogio. Even in this article, it is implied that Bergoglio was “nervous”. He already had an inkling of the result or maybe more. He is a Christian Marxist of the house of Chardin. So far, he has not removed the doubt of his belief in Christianity. He has the will to destroy capitalist Protestantism and to bring Islam into the fold of God. He has reached out to gays and abortionists as well as the divorced. He has stated through Eugenio Scolari that he no longer “believes in sin”. There is a real good chance that he is the pope of Our Lady of Fatima as well as Pius X. He may not be of God and really be a servant of the devil.

  17. My understanding FROM THE LORD is that PETER THE ROMAN IS THE TRUE PONTIFF, rather regardless of whether the one “officially elected,” while the one “officially elected” IS NOT THE TRUE POPE–but an imposter: this Peter the Roman from the prophecy of Malachy who describes a faithful pope. You may also want to read purported prophecies coming from www dot thewarningsecondcoming dot com.

    Daniel said the daily sacrifice would be taken away; Christianity is the continuation of the church of God at the time of Daniel; Christianity now has the daily Sacrifice–the actual words used in the Roman Catholic Mass.

    The final religion is THE worldwide religion headed by an adored leader who joins forces with another, both satanic; both deceptive–and preaching untruth; they will focus on economic problems; their solution will require a mark IN ORDER TO BUY AND SELL; “catholic” means universal, Catholic has the daily sacrifice.

    Malachy reveals the number of the last pope; this one is said to be it; the pope is portrayed as GOOD–my UNDERSTANDING from the LORD is this good one is NOT the one in office; REVELATION says THE LEADER OF THE WORLDWIDE CHURCH AT THE END IS CORRUPT; THE PROOF will be in the doctrine; WHEN SIN IS DONE AWAY AND THE LEADER OF THE WORLDWIDE CHURCH DECLARES SELF TO BE JESUS THEN THE DECEPTION IS CLEAR–for Jesus will come in the clouds “and every eye will see him,” and NO ONE will say LOOK for ALL will know him from the least to the greatest and HE said NOT to accept any who come BEFORE HE COMES IN THE CLOUDS that that will NOT be JESUS.

    So rather than speculate–do as Jesus say-ing told us, Watch!!!!+<3

  18. I hate to say it, but according to the messages given to Maria Divine Mercy (–Pope Benedict was, or is, the last true Pope, and the pope elected after him would be the false prophet.

  19. Cardinal Angelo Scola went into the 2013 Papal Conclave as a Pope. And he came out as a Cardinal.

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