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Smoking gun? Pope Francis’ critics cite new book in questioning his papacy

A new book about Pope Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope," by Austen Ivereigh. Photo courtesy of Henry Holt
Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, celebrating mass at the XX Exposición del Libro Católico (20th Catholic Book Fair) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  (2008)  Photo courtesy Aibdescalzo via Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/10Of6ve)

Photo courtesy of Aibdescalzo via Wikimedia Commons

Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, celebrating mass at the XX Exposición del Libro Católico (20th Catholic Book Fair) in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2008.

NEW YORK (RNS) Was there a secret plot to elect Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at the papal conclave last year?

Did Bergoglio — who became Pope Francis at that conclave — give the go-ahead to such a plan?

And does that campaign call his election, and his papacy, into question?

Such questions might sound like plot twists to a new Vatican thriller by Dan Brown, but they are actually the latest talking points promoted by some Catholic conservatives upset with the direction that Francis is leading the church.

The furor stems from a behind-the-scenes account of the March 2013 conclave, presented in a new book about Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.”

In the last chapter of the biography, which focuses on Bergoglio’s early life in Argentina and career as a Jesuit, author Austen Ivereigh delivers an insider account of how a group of cardinals who wanted a reformer pope quietly sought to rally support for Bergoglio in the days leading up to the conclave.

Cardinals take an oath not to divulge details of a conclave and Ivereigh based his account on background interviews with cardinals who took part.

He called Francis’ boosters “Team Bergoglio.” They were led by reform-minded European churchmen like Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of England, who Ivereigh once worked for, and German prelates like Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has become a trusted theological adviser to Francis.

Austen Ivereigh, author of a new book about Pope Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.” Photo courtesy of Linda Ivereigh

Austen Ivereigh, author of a new book about Pope Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.” Photo courtesy of Linda Ivereigh

At one point, Ivereigh writes that members of “Team Bergoglio” sought the Argentine cardinal’s “assent” that he would not refuse the papacy if the voting turned his way. During the 2005 conclave, Bergoglio reportedly refused to take up the mantle when he was running second to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would eventually be elected Pope Benedict XVI.

This time, Ivereigh writes, Bergoglio “said that he believed that at this time of crisis for the Church no cardinal could refuse if asked.”

In conclaves, cardinals often signal whether they would refuse or go along with an election, if it happened.

Also, while overt politicking is strongly discouraged, and conclave rules expressly forbid dealmaking, cardinals often coalesce in camps behind one contender or another.

But when Ivereigh’s book was published last month (he personally presented a copy to Francis), media accounts of the politics of the conclave prompted some to question whether Bergoglio himself was involved by giving the go-ahead, and whether that could undermine the legitimacy of his election.

https://twitter.com/austeni/status/535820424836567040/

Murphy-O’Connor’s press secretary wrote a letter to a British newspaper saying that no approach had been made to Bergoglio seeking his assent.

And on Monday (Dec. 1), the Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, issued a statement saying the cardinals cited “have expressly denied this description of events, both in terms of the demand for a prior consent by Cardinal Bergoglio and with regard to the conduct of a campaign for his election.”

Church sources said the Vatican’s quick reaction was an indication of how concerned Rome is that Francis’ opponents will use any pretext to try to sow doubts about him and his papacy.

A new book about Pope Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope," by Austen Ivereigh. Photo courtesy of Henry Holt

A new book about Pope Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope,” by Austen Ivereigh. Photo courtesy of Henry Holt

Ivereigh, a leading Vatican expert who was in New York this week to promote his book, said Tuesday (Dec. 2) that he stands by his reporting. But Ivereigh said he regretted phrasing the episode to make it seem that Bergoglio had been approached about being a candidate and gave his backers encouragement.

“That never happened and I am sorry that I gave the impression that’s what happened,” Ivereigh told Religion News Service. “I think the whole chapter makes clear that he never had any role at all in his own election.”

Ivereigh said he was trying to show that as opposed to the 2005 conclave, Bergoglio’s supporters in 2013 “were convinced he wouldn’t resist his election.”

“The conclave rules do not prevent cardinals from urging other cardinals to vote for a particular person,” he added. “And indeed that is exactly what happens. That is part of the discernment that happens in a papal election.”

Ivereigh said he will be changing the wording of one paragraph in future editions of the book to clarify Bergoglio’s role. (NOTE: See text of the wording change at the end of this story.)

Whether that will satisfy the critics is unclear.

Some fringe elements in the Catholic Church have proposed various theories they claim might either invalidate the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013 or the election of Francis the following month.

Others see the accounts of conclave machinations as further evidence that Pope Francis is, for them, a far more manipulative and autocratic figure than the public believes.

Ivereigh says that in future reprints of “The Great Reformer,” the paragraph at the top of Page 355 will be amended as follows:

EXISTING

They had learned their lessons from 2005. 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.

NEW

In keeping with conclave rules, they did not ask Bergoglio if he would be willing to be a candidate. But they believed this time that the crisis in the Church would make it hard for him to refuse if elected.

YS/AMB END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

20 Comments

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  • The ‘crisis in the Church’ is the one Bergoglio himself has generated.

    It has not been made clear yet whether the sort of machinations in which Cdl. Murphy-O’Conner was engaged crossed the line into violations of canon law.

  • I assumed horse trading and politicking were all part of electing a Pope. Isn’t that why the American Cardinals were all giving press conferences in the days up to the conclave? They were campaigning.

    Francis’ critics will make up reasons to object to him ,even when there arent any. They just dont like what he says, but arent honest enough to simply say that’s the reason they aren’t listening to him.

  • Francis’ critics will make up reasons to object to him ,even when there arent any. They just dont like what he says, but arent honest enough to simply say that’s the reason they aren’t listening to him.

    If you do not know what you are talking about, do not say anything. Francis’ lay critics have been bloody explicit about the problematic aspects of his public remarks. Priests with a public platform (e.g. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf) and bishops (Cdl. Burke and Cdl. George) have been more circumspect but unmistakable.

  • “If you do not know what you are talking about, do not say anything.”

    but then you would not be commenting either.

    Just remember to click on the ads once in a while between rabid posts, or RNS will go broke.

  • Let me guess: you have no problem with the Unborn Holocaust. This country is dying and so many fat, immoral Americans just keep repeating over and over again “nothing to see here!”

  • What is this “conservative catholic” you speak of? Conservative and liberal are political terms no?

  • The serious issues facing the Church have not changed, they are not of Francis’s making. He simply seeks to address them through constructive conversation, rather than by suppression. The only way any crisis is of his making is if your define “crisis” as disagreeing with you. And that does seem to be the operative definition of a lot of people.

  • “Conservative” and “liberal” are terms that can very reasonably refer to realities beyond the political. They do, of course, have that resonance, but they also can point to something as simple, yet fundamental, as temperaments.

    As for the political realm, part of what is so confusing in our usage of these terms is that there really aren’t many, if any, Conservatives left in the United States. Capitalism is economic liberalism; Adam Smith is one of the founding fathers of liberalism. Conservatives abhor social ruptures, discontinuities, and these are endemic in market economies. Schumpeter wrote of the ‘creative destruction’ essential to any capitalist economy, a phrase no real Conservative could speak without choking.

    So, while I agree that the words must be used with care in application to ecclesial matters, they are words with a wide range of meanings in actual usage and need not imply any simple politicization of faith.

  • Nope.

    But thanks for being a tasteless jerk who feels the need to appropriate one of history’s worst atrocities for your sectarian political agenda.

  • If deals, plots, schemes, etc., during Papal Conclaves were to make Papal Elections invalid, I doubt we would have many legitimate popes left.

  • It is amazing what the far right construes, likened from the dark ages with the suppression of knowledge and enlightenment to keep in ruthless power dogma that rules by fear and guilt.
    Obama is not only American in the fullest sense of the word, he is a class act, in the fullest sense of the word. Pope Fransis came in time to save a dying entity, the catholic way (I am not catholic by the way) from wondering far afield from the original Christ happening (Followers of the Way) of humility, love, charity and total acceptance of all. If anything Pope Fransis exemplifies these very elements. He is actually more of a Christ-like figure that I have ever seen. He will restore the integrity that had been gone for ages.
    So Mr Mesa conspire away in any deviant way you desire. These are two men that you could take a lesson from.

  • I would love to say that I am shocked by the bickering and criticism of a man that to the best of my knowledge has asked the church to do nothing more than Love as Christ himself Loves. What has he done that has been so terrible? Is focusing on the poor and down trodden such a sin? For the first time in a long time the world has a positive view of the Catholic Church, if you are a child of Christ – LOVE.

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