April 29, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – As LifeSiteNews reported, Gerard O'Connell's new book The Election of Pope Francis reveals more details about how it came about that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio came to be elected pope during the 2013 conclave. O'Connell especially mentions one meeting of some 15 cardinals on the eve of the conclave, 11 March. That gathering took place at the apartment of Cardinal Attilio Nicora, with Cardinals Walter Kasper, Francesco Coccopalmerio, Oscar Maradiaga, and Cormac Murphy-O'Connor present, all of whom are said to have supported Cardinal Bergoglio's election. O'Connell, who insists that there did not take place any sort of background planning or plotting, says that this meeting was a “crucial meeting” at which it became clear for the first time that Bergoglio already had a substantial number of supporters (around 25 votes). As O'Connell recounts, the cardinals present took notes on how many supporters of Bergoglio they knew among the electors.
LifeSiteNews reached out to Cardinal Kasper and gave him this LifeSiteNews book review for comment. It was Kasper who received the honor of having been praised publicly by Pope Francis four days after his election.
Cardinal Kasper, in his general comments (see below) on the content of the book as presented by LifeSiteNews, confirmed the existence of this crucial meeting at Cardinal Nicora's apartment. Nicora was once the auxiliary bishop under Cardinal Carlo Martini in Milan. Kasper also said that at that meeting, it became clearer to him that Bergoglio had a chance of being elected. He says: “ I was a little late and, when I came [to the meeting], I was informed about the meaning of the group [i.e., to see how many votes Bergoglio could well receive]. It is true: I agreed, and [it was] only from this moment on that I was more or less sure.”
In O'Connell's book, Kasper is being quoted as saying: “two days before the conclave [sic – it was on 11 March, and the conclave began on 12 March], there was a small group from different countries, not just Italians, but also some from the Vatican, and they said we should go for Bergoglio. Then it was clear for me. Beforehand it was very unsure, but his intervention in the pre-conclave meetings had been very important; his speech made a great impact.”
Cardinal Walter Kasper, in his comments to LifeSiteNews insisted that “during the conclave there was no networking.” He added that “Bergoglio’s name was only very late on the screen. I think, this is important against all stupid suspicions of manipulation and conspiracy theories (and a helpful reminder that the 'forecast' of journalists can fail!).” (please see below for the full statement of Cardinal Kasper)
In a follow-up e-mail, LifeSiteNews asked Cardinal Kasper for a clarification of his words. For, in a recent interview with the German Catholic journal Herder Korrespondenz, he had insisted not to have partaken in any sort of secret planning groups: “I would reject anyway any kind of prior secret plannings about which Pope we would like to have next, or also about whom we would like not to have. [….] That is why I never would solicit votes.”
LifeSiteNews pointed out to Cardinal Kasper that he himself confirmed that he did take part in a March 11 meeting, where the participants made a tally to find out how many supporters Bergoglio would have during the conclave. “Is this not a prior planning?” LifeSiteNews asked. In addition, LifeSiteNews quoted Gerard O'Connell who states in his new book that Cardinal Kasper and a few other cardinals “did not disguise their backing for him [Bergoglio].” Here, too, LifeSiteNews asked Kasper for further comment.
It seems here that perhaps there is a fine line between a simple meeting of discussion and not disguising one's favorite candidate on the one hand and a planning meeting and soliciting votes on the other hand.
LifeSiteNews asked Cardinal Kasper to comment on these points. He responded, saying: “Now I regret at hindsight that I have answered you. You twist everything.”
He said in his response to the follow-up question of LifeSiteNews:
It is reasonable and absolutely correct that it is forbidden – as it unfortunately happened in earlier conclaves up into the 19th century, according to Church history – to form groups with the obligation to vote according to the group [Fraktionszwang], or even to welcome promises for one's vote, in short, that all of this is forbidden. But it is really simply reasonable and normal – yes, it is even absolutely necesssary 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. How else shall one then otherwise come to a personal clarity? 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. 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.
And now let us be honest: Do you really want to pretend that there were not also other groups who took counsel among themselves, as well, but which came to a different conclusion? You surely don't believe that yourself. When you report that someone else [Cardinal Scola] first had more than 40 votes [more than Bergoglio] (by the way, I do not remember it anymore, whether this number is correct), then these more than 40 votes did not come out of nowhere either, but do show that most probably there have taken place some prior consultations. I do not reproach anyone for this, I consider it to be normal. The Holy Spirit does not work magically, but by way of legitimate (!) human means, among them personal conversations. If you now have suspicions about this, then this is not anymore mine and not anymore the Catholic Church.
It is normal that among cardinals who come from different regions, cultures, and schools of thought there are different opinions. But for me, this is much more a miracle that only the Holy Spirit can work, namely that they can come to an agreement within a very short time, and with a majority of more than two thirds and, what is more, that then all, without exception (!) and for whomever they had previously voted, exchange the sign of peace with the newly elected [pope], thus expressing their communio with him.
However, what I find bad and scandalous is the fact that in recent time some few cardinals and bishops damage this communio and more or less openly oppose that Pope with whom they had exchanged the sign of peace after his election.
Cardinal Kasper's commentary on LifeSiteNew's book review of Gerard O'Connell's The Election of Pope Francis
There was not a dinner in the apartment of Cardinal Nicora, but only some drinks and snacks. I was a little late and, when I came, I was informed about the meaning of the group. It is true: I agreed, and only from this moment on I was more or less sure. But the main problem is not this meeting. The main problem is: How out of only about 15 participants (or some estimated 25) could become more than two thirds, what means more than 80 in only 5 ballots. During the conclave there was no networking. Afterwards some cardinals told me, and it was also my own impression, that “there was something moving during the conclave,” and some mentioned, “there was the Holy Spirit at work.” (Maybe, or probably, others think differently!)
Yes, there were many meetings during the pre-conclave, and they are very helpful, especially for cardinals from abroad. The meeting in the Venerable English College was only searching and explorative. One meeting among German-speaking cardinals already before the first Congregatio (among them Meisner and Schönborn) was in my apartment. Some tendencies and possible candidates were mentioned, but no mention was made of Bergoglio. Thus, Bergoglio’s name was only very late on the screen. I think this is important against all stupid suspicions of manipulation and conspiracy theories (and a helpful reminder that the “forecast” of journalists can fail!).
The meeting of 2005 you mention was not in the apartment of Cardinal Silvestrini, but in some official building (which, I can’t remember). This wasn’t a meeting of the St. Gallen club, but a much larger group moderated by Silvestrini. As I remember, the name of Bergoglio wasn’t mentioned directly. In this context let me say: in St. Gallen we never spoke about candidates for a future conclave. The St. Gallen meetings were initiated by Cardinal Martini during the pontificate of John Paul II (when I was still a bishop in Germany, i.e. before 1999) as an exchange among bishops, who considered themselves as friends, about their pastoral experiences and perspectives for the future of the Church, especially in Europe. (The description in the biography of Cardinal Danneels is more the interpretation of the authors of the biography than my personal understanding, and Danneel's quip remark of a mafia is totally misleading). After 2006, there were no more meetings anymore of this group. So it is absolute nonsense that we could or wanted to organize or even manipulate the conclave of 2013.
Cardinal Walter Kasper