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Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganóAbp. Carlo Maria Viagnó

(LifeSiteNews) – There is a new development regarding the discussion as to whether or not Pope Francis’ papal election at the March 2013 conclave was valid. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has claimed that a cardinal who participated in the conclave told friends “that he has witnessed facts that render the election of Jorge Mario null and void.”

Speaking to Catholic Family News editor Matt Gaspers, the Italian prelate added that this cardinal does not wish to reveal these facts “publicly so as not to break the Pontifical secret: the secret that he has already broken by talking about it with those who can do nothing, which forces His Eminence into silence before the Church.” In his view, these facts might render it possible that the Church’s “Pastors could perhaps settle the question” of the 2013 papal election.

Archbishop Viganò thinks this is a mistaken approach, based on a false legalism.

“We are not talking about the Seal of Confession,” the prelate wrote in his new interview, “but rather about matters that have reason to be reserved until this is to the detriment of the institution that brought them into force; otherwise we find ourselves like the Pharisees of the Gospel, who asked Our Lord if it was lawful to pull a donkey out of the well on the Sabbath day.”

This is a stunning report: So far, no cardinal who participated in the 2013 conclave has come out making such a statement, namely that there were events at the conclave that might render that particular papal election invalid.

In 2022, Viganò expressed his doubts about the validity of the 2013 conclave and requested an “investigation.”

So far, multiple reports have indicated that there were schemes and organized meetings in order to promote Jorge Bergoglio’s election at the time.

Most prominently, a Vatican reporter close to Pope Francis, Gerard O’Connell, published in 2019 a book about the 2013 conclave in which he reveals that a meeting of progressive cardinals discussing a possible candidate took place on March 11, 2013, one day ahead of the first day of the conclave. Among the cardinals were Godfried Danneels, Walter Kasper, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and Karl Lehmann, all members of the so-called “Sankt Gallen Group.”

Cardinal Kasper told LifeSite at the time that he did indeed participate in that meeting but denied that there was anything unethical.

He told LifeSite in 2019 that “it is really simply reasonable and normal – yes, it is even absolutely necessary for the forming of a personal judgment and conscience – that cardinals meet in order to reflect in a small circle (when all of them are together, there are 180-200, then everybody can only speak one time), and to weigh things and to receive information (not everybody knows each other) and then to form together a non-binding opinion.”

Speaking specifically about the March 11 meeting, Kasper added, “At our meeting, afterwards no one was bound and fixed; each could also continue his own reflection, and no one was later asked whether and how he voted.” But he implied that the results of that meeting were further shared with other cardinals when he expounded: “That one afterwards speaks with someone who was not present that evening [at the meeting] and informs him, cannot be forbidden either. That has nothing to do with solicitation. When additionally someone from that group afterwards thinks for himself privately and then speaks about how many [votes] there roughly would be, then that is his personal opinion which binds no one.”

British influence and McCarrick lobbying

Another important hint about somewhat irregular happenings in preparation for the 2013 conclave came from another book published in 2017. Catherine Pepinster, the former editor-in-chief of the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, claims in The Keys and the Kingdom: The British and the Papacy from John Paul II to Francis that the British Foreign Office may have played an important role in the 2013 papal election, especially by way of organizing another key meeting ahead of the conclave that was to promote Bergoglio.

Based on many interviews with key figures such as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor and the British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker, she claims that the U.K. “played a crucial role in the election of the Argentinian destined to shake up the Catholic Church.”

Pepinster recounts in her book how the British government, through its ambassador to the Holy See, was instrumental in setting up a March 7 meeting at the ambassador’s residence at the Palazzo Pallavincini where key cardinals – especially Murphy-O’Connor – networked with lesser-known cardinals to promote Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for pope.

Calling Bergoglio’s election a “very British coup,” Pepinster’s work suggests that a secular power was involved in the election of a pope. Here, she specifically mentions Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor.

“The British influence on the conclave was against all the odds, yet it happened,” Pepinster stated. “That was down to one of the most capable cardinals I’ve ever met – Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – playing the most powerful non-voting role in the choosing of a pope I’ve ever known.”

Pope Francis seemed to have been aware of the British cardinal’s role in his election. The Guardian‘s obituary of the prelate in 2017 stated, “A few months after his election, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was apparently lightheartedly to credit Murphy-O’Connor, when the two met at a papal audience. The pope pointed to his old friend and said, ‘You’re to blame!’”

Now-disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick also described how certain influencers tried to get Bergoglio elected. LifeSite contributor Liz Yore summed up his own testimony as he presented it in October 2013, only months after Bergoglio’s election:

McCarrick told the audience that before the cardinal electors “went into the general conversations,” he was approached by “a very interesting and influential Italian gentleman.” The influential Italian visited McCarrick at the seminary where McCarrick was staying in Rome. This “very brilliant man, very influential man in Rome” said, “What about Bergoglio? Does he have a chance?” McCarrick said he was surprised at the question, and replied, “I don’t think so because no one’s mentioned his name.” The man said, referring to Bergoglio, “He could do it, you know, reform the church.”

Although McCarrick was beyond the age to vote in the 2013 conclave, he spoke at the General Congregation proceedings before the conclave. As he explained in his Villanova talk, he seized the opportunity to lobby for a Latin American Pope, urging his fellow cardinal electors that he hoped that whoever was elected pope would be someone who, if not himself a Latin American, would “have a very strong interest in Latin America because half the Church is there … that’s where the people are.”

None of these hints alone suffice to make a case in this very crucial matter, though.

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who is  highly respected among many faithful Catholics, holds that Pope Francis’ papacy is a valid one. Writing in 2020 (while Pope Benedict XVI was still alive), the Kazakh bishop of German descent insisted:

Declaring Pope Francis to be an invalid pope, either because of his heresies or because of an invalid election (for reasons of alleged violations of the Conclave norms or for the reason that Pope Benedict XVI is still the pope because of his invalid renunciation) are desperate and subjectively taken actions aimed at remedying the current unprecedented crisis of the papacy. They are purely human and betray a spiritual myopia. All such endeavors are ultimately a dead end, a cul-de-sac. Such solutions reveal an implicit Pelagian approach to resolving a problem with human means; a problem, indeed, which cannot be resolved by human efforts, but which requires a divine intervention.

One need only examine similar cases of the deposition of a pope or declaration of the invalidity of his election in Church history to see that they provoked rivaling and combating claimants to the papal office.

It is unclear whether Archbishop Viganò has spoken directly to the cardinal in question. He told Gaspers that “if these confidences are true, I dare not think of the moral travail of those who are preparing to take the secret to the grave, when they would have had the opportunity of unmasking the intrigues and plots of the Saint Gallen Mafia.”

“If they are not true,” he continued, “it would not make sense to talk about it even with the most trusted people (who, however, must have told others, since the news has leaked).”

LifeSite reached out to Archbishop Viganò and to two respected cardinals for comment and shall update this report should we hear back from them.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.