ACardinal Bergoglio who, just a few hours before being elected Pope, rediscovered the vocation for chemistry he had as a young man, offering a cardinal colleague some advice on medicine doses as they sat down to eat… A Cardinal Bergoglio who was elected after a voting session had to be annulled due to a mistake with the ballots… A Cardinal Bergoglio who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, had to face a good deal of opposition from a group of rivals who held powerful positions in the Roman Curia…

There’s all this and much more in Argentinian Vatican correspondent Elisabetta Piqué’s new book Francesco: Vita e Rivoluzione (“Francis: Life and Revolution”), published by Lindau. Piqué, who writes for a leading Argentinian daily, La Na­ción, has known the Pope for more than a decade. Her book is packed with testimonies and behind-the-scenes information… starting with a ballot-counting mistake made in the secrecy of the Sistine Chapel.

Argentinian Vatican correspondent Elisabetta Piqué and Pope Francis.

Argentinian Vatican correspondent Elisabetta Piqué and Pope Francis.

A number of cardinals approached Bergoglio in the final hours before the conclave and, according to this book, said to him: “Careful, it’s your turn now.”

Bergoglio is said to have received 25 votes in the first voting session on the evening of March 12, the book says. (The man tipped as the favorite to succeed Benedict XVI was the archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola; he is said to have started off with 30 votes.)

That first evening, Bergoglio invited Argentinian colleague and Curia member Cardinal Leonardo Sandri to eat with him. “Come, sit next to me, let’s eat together,” he said. There was vegetable soup on the menu. “Sandri wasn’t feeling too well, he had laryngitis and his eyes kept on watering,” the book says. Bergoglio, who had studied chemistry, took a close look at the antibiotic Sandri was taking and advised him on the dose to take. But they couldn’t avoid talking about the conclave… “Prepare yourself, dear friend,” Sandri told his fellow countryman.

It was in the third voting session, the last of the morning of March 13, that Bergoglio’s votes leaped to 50, ahead of all the other candidates. In the fourth voting session, the first of the afternoon, the archbishop of Buenos Aires came close to getting the 77 votes needed to become Pope. Right after this, voters cast their ballots again for the fifth time. But something went wrong. The cardinal counting the ballots saw that there was one too many — 116 votes cast by 115 electors. One of them had written his chosen candidate’s name down on one ballot without realizing that there was another piece of paper stuck to it. So when the moment came for the votes to be counted, that extra blank ballot was a problem. The ballots were not scrutinized but burned, and another voting session held. Finally, in the sixth session, Bergoglio’s name came out on top with 90 votes, according to the book’s author.

The book also looks at the difficult relationship Bergoglio had with the Roman Curia before his election. Piqué writes of a group of people who “acted against him” and names the former nuncio to Argentina, Adriano Bernardini (currently nuncio to Italy) and the former secretary of state, Angelo Sodano, among these men. Most problems had to do with episcopal nominations, because Rome rejected the candidates put forward by the Argentinian Episcopal Conference. “The group which took a stance against Bergoglio included the archbishop of La Plata, Mgr. Héctor Aguer, some bishops and priestly and lay institutes, and some UCA (Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina) professors.” The former ambassador to the Holy See, Esteban Caselli, a Menem supporter, worked in the background. He could easily access the Vatican buildings because of his friendship with Cardinal Sodano. He was named a papal “gentleman” in 2003, the book says.

Elisabetta Piqué FRANCESCO: VITA  E RIVOLUZIONE  Lindau, 384 pp.  Euro 19,00.

Elisabetta Piqué
Lindau, 384 pp.
Euro 19,00.

Bergoglio was accused of not defending Catholic doctrine, of taking too bold pastoral actions and of not showing more determination in his discussions with the Argentinian government. He was also criticized for baptizing children born out of wedlock. The future Pope’s relations with a section of the Roman Curia became more complicated during the last two years before his election. Msgr. Víctor Manuel Fernández, who had helped Bergoglio prepare the final document at Aparecida, got involved. Bergoglio fought for years to have the Holy See make his appointment of Fernández as rector of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), official. Fernández flew to Rome and despite the fact that an audience had been scheduled and he had Bergoglio’s letter of introduction, at the last minute he was refused a meeting at the relevant Vatican Congregation. The UCA rector toward whom (as he says) the Vatican showed disdain, was the first Argentinian bishop Pope Francis named after his election. (Review courtesy of Vatican Insider.)

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