The Sacred College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as Pope on March 13, 2013. He is the first pope from the Americas. He is the first Pope Francis. Hei s the first pope from the Society of Jesus in the history of the Catholic Church.
Past popes held The Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, in suspicion. Pope Clement XIV (r. 1769-1774) suppressed the order. Prior to his reign, Jesuits were close to the popes and leveraged their power in foreign countries for centuries. England Jesuits meddled in politics to such a degree that royal families in Spain, Portugal and France wanted the order destroyed.
In the months leading up to the election of the Catholic Church’s new pope, I published my debut fiction thriller, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits. Among other things, it’s about the Jesuits having their fill of financial and sexual corruption in the Catholic Church, blackmailing the pope with secret documents, and taking control of the Vatican bank and the church.
The events that felled Cardinal Bergoglio’s competitors prior to the election are as shocking as my fictional conspiracies. The timing of those events couldn’t have been more perfect if they had been intentionally orchestrated. Life sometimes imitates art, and this is one of those times. The actual events surrounding the pope’s election are as astonishing as my fictional conspiracies.
Pope Benedict XVI Resigns
Pope Benedict XVI, 85, was no doubt weary when he announced he would retire at the end of February and make way for the election of a new pope. This rare act hadn’t happened in centuries. Many other popes had been old and ill, yet they didn’t resign; their papacies ended with their deaths.
Why was this time different?
Demons of its own design lay siege to the Catholic Church. Sexual and financial scandals plagued the Vatican. Vatileaks revealed that the pope’s former butler leaked embarrassing papal documents to an Italian journalist.
In Rome, a scandal was heating up about male prostitutes blackmailing gay priests. Pope Benedict XVI received a 300-page report in December about the possible blackmail. This came on the heels of more than a decade of revelations about other sexual and financial scandals.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s Sex Scandal
The final blow to Pope Benedict XVI may have come from Britain. Catherine Deveney of the Observer broke a story about the highest placed Catholic in the United Kingdom, Scotland’s supposedly celibate Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh.
Three acting priests and one former priest gave sworn signed statements in a complaint they made to the papal nuncio. In it they provided detailed allegations of O’Brien’s abuse of authority and inappropriate sexual advances.
Deveney wrote that the issue isn’t homosexuality; it’s hypocrisy. O’Brien stepped down shortly after the scandal became public. The papal nuncio had received the complaints on or about February 8 or 9. Pope Benedict XVI, former head of the Vatican department that investigated internal sexual misconduct, announced his resignation on February 11 and formally stepped down February 28, 2013.
Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation paved the way for a papal election. But it in no way assured the election of Jesuit Cardinal Bergoglio.
Cardinal Angelo Scola Falls from Grace
Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, appeared to be the favorite candidate. He was close to the newly-resigned pope. Prior to the conclave, Cardinal Scola was the favorite. Of the 115 electoral votes, he had already sewn up around fifty votes. On March 12, 2013, the Washington Post reported he was a “safe pick” for the new pope.
But just hours before the conclave, anti-mafia investigators swooped into Cardinal Scola’s diocese. Allegations of conspiracy and corruption hit the Italian newspapers just as foreign cardinals, previously unaware of the scandal, assembled to contemplate their votes.
Pope Francis: An Inspired Choice
Cardinal Bergoglio was well liked prior to the conclave, even if he wasn’t the frontrunner. Cardinal Scola’s fall from grace was essential to Bergoglio’s victory.
After winning the election, Cardinal Bergoglio took the name Pope Francis I in honor of the humble comforter of the poor, St. Francis of Assisi. He claims to want a church that is poor and a church that is for the poor. It’s an extraordinary position in a church administered by many cardinals who are fond of the kind of luxury and power that Jesus Christ eschewed.
Pope Francis claimed that the Holy Spirit had inspired the events surrounding his election. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired the choice of the cardinals. Pope Francis didn’t mention the well-timed raid in Cardinal Scala’s diocese.
However it came about, the Vatican is now ruled by a Jesuit pope who claims to be committed to helping the powerless and the poor. His election was apparently made possible by the downfall of the privileged and the greedy.