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Details of papal election revealed


Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio celebrates a Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II at the Buenos Aires Cathedral earlier this year. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio celebrates a Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II at the Buenos Aires Cathedral earlier this year. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Nicole Winfield Associated Press

VATICAN CITY – A cardinal has broken his vow of secrecy and released his diary describing the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, revealing in an exceedingly rare account that a cardinal from Argentina was the main challenger and almost blocked Benedict’s election.

Excerpts of the diary, published Friday, show Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led in each of the four ballots cast in the Sistine Chapel during the mystery-shrouded April 18-19 conclave. But, in a surprise, Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, a Jesuit, was in second place the whole time.

Most accounts of the conclave have said retired Milan archbishop Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini was the main challenger to Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI after his election, and that a Third World pope was never realistically in the running.

While Bergoglio never threatened Ratzinger’s lead – and made clear he didn’t want the job, according to the diary published in the respected Italian foreign affairs magazine Limes – his runner-up status could signal the next conclave might elect a pope from Latin America, home to half the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics.

The diary of the anonymous cardinal is also significant because it shows that Ratzinger didn’t garner a huge margin – he had 84 of the 115 votes in the final ballot, seven more than the required two-thirds majority.

His two immediate predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope John Paul I, are believed to have garnered 99 and 98 votes respectively, and that was when there were only 111 voting cardinals.

“It does seem that somebody wants to indicate that the conclave was a more complex process than was being depicted and that Benedict’s mandate was not a slam dunk,” said David Gibson, a former Vatican Radio journalist who is writing a biography of Benedict.

The published diary entries were interspersed with commentary from Vatican journalist Lucio Brunelli, who says he obtained the diary through a trusted source he had known for years. He told the Associated Press he spoke in Italian to his source – a hint the cardinal in question was Italian.

Brunelli says he couldn’t identify the author because of the vow of secrecy each cardinal took before entering the conclave. Punishment for violating the vow is excommunication.

In Buenos Aires, a spokesman for the archdiocese, Enzo Paoletta, said Bergoglio had no comment on the report.

According to the diary, Ratzinger won 47 votes and Bergoglio 10 on the first round of balloting, while Martini got nine and some 30 others got a few votes.

By the third ballot, Ratzinger had 72 votes, just five shy of the two-thirds majority needed to win. But Bergoglio got 40, just over the threshold needed to stall the conclave if his supporters wanted to.

However, the diary says Bergoglio made it clear he might not have accepted the job. The cardinal recalls watching Bergoglio cast his ballot: “The suffering face, as if he were begging: ‘God don’t do this to me.’ “

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