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Pope’s election took US diplomats by surprise

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prepares for communion at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican before the papal conclave (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite/ File) Ref

Pope Benedict’s election to the papacy took American diplomats by surprise, it emerged this week.

They predicted that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would get a flurry of votes from his fellow cardinals at the beginning of the conclave but that he would be unable to muster the support needed to become Pope.

An April 19 2005 telegram from Rome to Washington signed by Bernt Hardt, says diplomats were “shocked” and “speechless” about the election of Cardinal Ratzinger

According to sensitive State Department documents obtained by La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, American diplomats at the US Embassy to the Holy See listed sixteen papabile, or candidates for the papacy on April 18, 2005, the day the conclave following Pope John Paul II’s death began.

Diplomats had drawn up an earlier document for the then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice only days after John Paul II died, in which they had outlined the likely characteristics of the Pope’s successor.

The document, which was classified as “sensitive”, described the next Pope as a man who was neither too old nor too young so as to avoid having a funeral and conclave too soon, but also to “avoid a papacy as long as John Paul II’s”. The future Pope, they believed, needed to speak Italian in order to control the Vatican’s bureaucracy but would not necessarily be Italian. They thought the candidate would unlikely be from Eastern Europe post-John Paul II, or America because of its status as the last remaining superpower. The future Pope, they wrote, would need to have pastoral experience in order to show his human side and be a good communicator with new media skills.

The Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels was among those considered to be the best candidates by American diplomats. They said Cardinal Danneels “knows how to use a computer” and represents the best compromise between Catholic doctrine and liberalism. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi the Archbishop of Milan was also considered a likely choice because of his connection with young people, while Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos had “organized video conferences with thousands of priests” was considered “the perfect candidate for those who want a Hispanic who knows the Curia”.

In the dossier, American sources cited Cardinal Ratzinger’s brief stint in forced military service in the “last months of World War II”, saying that he would get votes in early ballots but would not be able to get the support. They predicted he would continue to be a “powerful cardinal” and a “guardian of theological orthodoxy”.

The files were released as part of a quarter of a million leaked United States embassy cables which were made public by the Wikileaks website last week.