We did not have to wait long after the conclave of 2005 for an authoritative account of the voting behind the Sistine Chapel’s sealed doors. That same year, an Italian television journalist gave a detailed breakdown of the ballots, based on the diary of an anonymous cardinal. We have had to wait considerably longer for an insider account of the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. But now it seems the wait is over: a new book, The Election of Pope Francis, by veteran Vatican reporter Gerard O’Connell, promises to offer the most detailed description yet.
An extract published by America magazine last Friday revealed for the first time the exact results of the initial round of voting. According to O’Connell, the Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola came top with 30 votes and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was second with 26, followed by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet with 22 and US Cardinal Seán O’Malley with 10. Five cardinals received two votes each: Timothy Dolan, Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, George Pell, Christoph Schönborn and Peter Turkson. Twelve cardinals received a single vote: Ennio Antonelli, Audrys Bačkis, Carlo Caffarra, Thomas Collins, Oswald Gracias, Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Mauro Piacenza, Gianfranco Ravasi, Leonardo Sandri, Robert Sarah, Luis Antonio Tagle and André Vingt-Trois. There was also one vote for “Broglio” – a reference either to the US Archbishop Timothy Broglio (not present at the conclave) or, more likely, to Cardinal Bergoglio. Either way one cardinal clearly forgot to do his homework.
Can we be certain that these figures are accurate? We cannot. Conclaves operate under strict secrecy with the threat of excommunication. The 1996 apostolic letter Universi Dominici Gregis says: “The cardinal electors are forbidden to reveal to any other person, directly or indirectly, information about the voting and about matters discussed or decided concerning the election of the Pope in the meetings of cardinals, both before and during the time of the election.” Most cardinals believe that they are never permitted to give a detailed account of the voting in a public forum. But others argue that the ban refers only to “before and during” the election and not after.
Yet the voting tallies are likely to be accurate, as O’Connell has good sources in Rome and he confirms what we broadly knew about the 2013 conclave: that Cardinal Scola entered favourite, but failed to establish a commanding lead; that Cardinal Bergoglio performed strongly given that, at 76, he was written off by some as too old; and that the North Americans Cardinal Ouellet and Cardinal O’Malley attracted early attention.
O’Connell’s account is not merely of historical interest. It also offers clues to the Church’s future. According to the anonymous cardinal’s recollection of the 2005 conclave, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gained a formidable 47 votes in the first round. In second place was Cardinal Bergoglio with 10. This suggests that cardinals pay attention to past performance in conclaves. There is no reason to think that a conclave is imminent, but if one were held today there would – according to this theory – be some interest in Cardinal Scola (though he is now 77 and retired), Cardinal Ouellet (74 and still prefect of the Congregation for Bishops) and Cardinal O’Malley (also 74 and still Archbishop of Boston).
According to O’Connell, one of the most striking things about the last conclave was the sheer breadth of votes. “Before the conclave,” he writes, “several cardinals had predicted that there would be a wide spread on the first ballot, but few had imagined how wide: 23 prelates received at least one vote on the first ballot; this meant that one out of every five cardinals present got at least one vote, with four cardinals getting 10 or more votes.”
Since his election, Pope Francis has consciously chosen new cardinals from “the peripheries”: countries such as Haiti, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, which have never had a cardinal before. He has also declined to give red hats automatically to sees usually led by cardinals, for example, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The College of Cardinals is therefore more diverse than it has ever been. This may mean that it is also less cohesive and that a future conclave may produce an even broader spread of votes. It is vital, therefore, that the cardinals have as many opportunities as possible to meet together over the coming years.
The 2005 and 2013 elections took just two days. There is no guarantee that future conclaves will be resolved so swiftly.
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