Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

What is the truth about Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor and ‘Team Bergoglio’?

A couple of days ago John Bingham, the excellent religious affairs editor of the Telegraph, broke a story that is only now filtering out. I hope he’ll forgive me if I wonder whether he realised just what a big story it was. Bingham wrote:

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, helped to orchestrate a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign which led to the election of Pope Francis, a new biography claims … [The book] to be published next month, discloses that there had been a discreet, but highly organised, campaign by a small group of European cardinals in support of Cardinal Bergoglio.

The Great Reformer, by the British Catholic writer Austen Ivereigh, nicknames the group ‘Team Bergoglio’ and says members toured private dinners and other gatherings of cardinals in the days before the conclave, quietly putting their case.

‘Spotting their moment, the initiative was now seized by the European reformers who in 2005 had pushed for Bergoglio,’ Mr Ivereigh, who once served as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s press secretary, explains in the book.

He wrote that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, then 80 and no longer with a vote in the conclave, teamed up with the German cardinal Walter Kasper, whose controversial call for remarried divorcees to be allowed to receive communion was one of the main points of division at the synod that Pope Francis held in Rome this year.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s role included lobbying his North American counterparts as well as acting as a link for those from Commonwealth countries.

‘They had learnt their lessons from 2005,’ Mr Ivereigh explains. “They first secured Bergoglio’s assent. Asked if he was willing, he said that he believed that at this time of crisis for the Church no cardinal could refuse if asked.

‘Murphy-O’Connor knowingly warned him to “be careful”, and that it was his turn now, and was told “capisco” – “I understand”.

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