Cardinal Marc Ouellet

Canada’s Ouellet was a close third in pope vote

By 
  • April 17, 2019

VATICAN CITY - Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet was third on every ballot during the five rounds of voting that ended with then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio becoming Pope Francis, according to a new book.

In The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave That Changed History, author Gerard O’Connell claims to have the results of all five ballots cast in the 2013 election. He also provides a varied and detailed account of what dozens of cardinals were saying before the vote.

 Cardinals who participate in a conclave to elect a pope take a solemn vow of secrecy regarding what occurs in the Sistine Chapel, including anything “directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting.” But, perhaps motivated by a desire to set the historical record straight, there are cardinals who will share vote tallies and details of the conclave.

In the run-up to the 2013 conclave, Italian media and many others insisted the front-runner was Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, then-archbishop of Milan. But according to O’Connell, Scola placed first only on the opening ballot, leading Bergoglio 30 to 26, with Ouellet third at 22 votes.

Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins was among 13 cardinals who received one vote, wrote O’Connell.

He said Ouellet’s showing was “better than expected” and made him a “strong candidate” because there was insufficient support among the cardinals to elect Scola, another European pope, and for many voters there was concern that, at age 76, Bergoglio may have been too old for the job. Ouellet was 68 at the time and Scola 71.

“That first ballot seemed to indicate to many electors that the next pope would not be European; he would come from the Americas,” wrote O’Connell, Vatican correspondent for Jesuit-run America magazine

Ouellet had significant support.  Many cardinals respected his pastoral experience as a priest in Colombia and as archbishop in Quebec, wrote O’Connell.

“Important, too, was the fact that he knew the Vatican from the inside, having worked first in the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and since 2010 in the powerful Congregation for Bishops.”

But several cardinals “said they found him ‘uninspiring’ and ‘ordinary’ and felt that his track record in the Roman Curia gave rise to serious questions about his ability to govern under pressure.”

Among Ouellet’s supporters was Cardinal Joachim Meissner, the archbishop of Cologne, Germany.  Regarded as a conservative voice, Meissner wanted the next pope to “faithfully follow the line and vision” of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

“And so … he was seen standing outside the door of his room urging fellow electors: ‘Vote for Ouellet! Bergoglio is too old,’ ” O’Connell wrote.

As for the secrecy that is supposed to surround the election, O’Connell told Catholic News Service that when several cardinals, “one in particular, but there were others,” agreed to speak to him, they knew he eventually would write about the conclave. “They made this clear to me.”

Their reasons for speaking varied, but “I think most of them realized this was a turning point in the history of the Catholic Church” with the election of the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit, said O’Connell.

Although he wrestled with the question, he said, “I had not taken any oath of secrecy; the cardinals had. How they come to terms in their own conscience, that’s not for me to judge.”

In O’Connell’s account, comments before the conclave by Bergoglio marked the moment the cardinal electors seemed inclined to set aside concerns about electing a 76-year-old in an attempt to elect a “man of God” with a clear vision for the Church, including how to move forward with a reform of the Roman Curia.

Shortly after his election, Pope Francis allowed Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana to publish a text of that pre-conclave talk. Bergoglio said the Church is called to go out to the “peripheries.” He said when the Church fails to focus on evangelization, it becomes “self-referential,” which leads to illness and stagnation, and he said reform of the Roman Curia must focus on evangelization, not the institution.

O’Connell said talking to dozens of cardinals, on and off the record, the conclave clearly was more about prayer than politics.

“A lot of the press coverage I read didn’t seem to consider this as a real factor in the choice of a man,” O’Connell told CNS, “but in the hearts of the cardinals, many of them, this was number one. They were looking for a holy man, a man who could inspire people and whose own life reflected his beliefs. At the end of the day, these were deciding factors when it came to the choice.”

(With files from Catholic News Service)


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