Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

The St. Gallen Mafia and Orwellian Francis

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

In George Orwell’s 1984, no one is supposed to know about anything predating the Revolution that put the now-dominant Party in power.  In Orwell’s dystopian prophecy, the records must all be redacted, the memories must all be censored, and the statues must all be renamed to align with the Party’s official account of history. 

In an eerily similar way, under the current regime of Pope Francis, a dubious history of the 2005 conclave is now being recirculated.  With his new interview on the 2005 papal election, Francis is retelling an edited version of history promoted by the St. Gallen mafia—the group of high-ranking Churchmen opposed to the papal election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. 

Ultimately, this official Party narrative looks less like a history than a hit piece—an Orwellian attack against the late Pope Benedict XVI.  So let’s examine the Party’s key evidentiary records: a conclave diary, a cardinal’s “confession,” and a new papal interview.

The Conclave Diary

A few months after the 2005 papal election, an anti-Ratzingerian conclave diary was published by Lucio Brunelli in Limes.  This diary appears to have been leaked by the St. Gallen mafia’s “mastermind,” Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, according to Nicolas Diat’s L’Homme Qui Ne Voulait Pas Être Pape.

The diary’s central claim was that in 2005, the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had had enough votes to block Ratzinger from becoming pope.  This line was the Party’s official record of the 2005 conclave—and it sounded, some said, like a marketing piece for Bergoglio’s next papal run. 

So several years ago, I researched non-Party records for my book The St. Gallen Mafia.  In that book, I indicated the following:   

  1. The leaked conclave diary said that Bergoglio at one point had forty votes—enough to block Ratzinger.  But the diary made a basic error in its reporting of voting dynamics.  Simply put, in times past a candidate with forty votes might indeed have blocked another from getting a two-thirds majority (seventy-seven votes).  But in 1996, Pope John Paul II changed conclave rules, so that a candidate with just fifty-eight votes could win if his supporters held out for over thirty-four rounds.  When Ratzinger attained this magical number of votes, says Marco Politi in Joseph Ratzinger, Bergoglio’s party knew they would not win. 
  2. The diary suggested that Bergoglio magnanimously withdrew his candidacy.  That is, he contemplated Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, thought, “don’t do this to me,” and then let Ratzinger win.  But according to vaticanista John Thavis, Bergoglio’s supposed “refusal” of the papacy was eminently debatable: multiple sources have indicated that the Latin American cardinal never shut down the possibility of becoming pope. 
  3. The diary claimed that Ratzinger won only eighty-four votes in the end.  But the true count for the German cardinal, as vaticanista John Allen shows in The Rise of Benedict XVI, appears to have been almost one hundred.  This piece of evidence strongly suggests that Ratzinger’s votes were deliberately downsized by the conclave diary.

The Cardinal’s “Confession”

Next came a French book called Confession d’un Cardinal, claiming to collect and report the musings of a powerful, anonymous cardinal.  According to Diat, more than one reader suspected that this cardinal was none other than the St. Gallen mafia’s Silvestrini. 

Of all the mafia’s members, it was Silvestrini who appears to have most encouraged Bergoglio to lead the anti-Ratzingerian contingency, according to Diat.  In Confession d’un Cardinal’s section on the 2005 conclave, the anonymous cardinal who may have been Silvestrini said he and some others had talked for several years about the succession of Pope John Paul II.  He said that he and his group thought about the prospect of a Latin American pope with European roots.

Then the cardinal spoke, by name, of thinking of “Cardinal Bergoglio.” 

With that, the cardinal repeated the leaked conclave diary’s questionable claims regarding Bergoglio’s performance at the papal election.  The mysterious cardinal said this information about Bergoglio needed to be kept in mind—just in case Benedict’s pontificate did not last long.

The Papal Interview

Benedict’s pontificate, as predicted, did not last long—and Bergoglio was indeed elected.  Now, eleven years into the current regime, the Party is showing its anxiety about the past, doubling down on its reconstruction of the 2005 papal election.

“It happened that I got to have forty of the one hundred and fifteen votes in the Sistine Chapel,” Francis says in the new interview from the Spanish book El Sucesor. “They were enough to stop Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s candidacy, because if they had continued to vote for me, he would not have been able to reach the two thirds necessary to be elected pope.”

This statement is an overt repackaging of the anti-Ratzingerian conclave diary, down to the familiar line about the “two thirds necessary to be elected pope.”  Here Pope Francis retells the Party’s story that he could have blocked Ratzinger’s candidacy—even though, to repeat, Pope John Paul II in 1996 decreed that a candidate could potentially be elected with just fifty-eight votes, not the seventy-seven votes previously needed for a two-thirds majority.

Ultimately, however, it is not just the history of the 2005 conclave that is at stake with Francis’s new interview.  With the arrival of El Sucesor, you are now required to believe, for instance, that Benedict and Francis were in perfect harmony on the correctness of the latter’s liberal stance toward same-sex civil unions. 

Welcome to Googling “Ratzinger” and “same-sex unions” to see if they’re making up the German cardinal’s opposition to them.  Welcome to reading Summorum Pontificum and Traditionis Custodes to see if you’re crazy for thinking Benedict and Francis held somewhat different positions on the Latin Mass.  Welcome to scanning 1984 just to find out if you are being gaslit—being made to question your perceptions and memories.    

Welcome to life under a Party that (increasingly) controls the past.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...