On the 8th Anniversary of McCarrick’s “Influential Italian Gentleman”

March 2, 2021 (Steven O’Reilly) – It is the time of year when various anniversaries pop up involving events in the Catholic world in February and March of 2013.  There’s the anniversary of Benedict XVI first reading his resignation letter on February 10th. Then there is anniversary of Pope Benedict’s actual, effective resignation on February 28th.  And, of course, in less than two weeks from now, the anniversary of the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope on March 13, 2013.

Then there are the anniversaries of more curious events in Rome in 2013, less heralded.  

February 27th: 

Cardinal Bergoglio arrives in Rome for the last couple days of Benedict’s pontificate and the upcoming conclave. It is curious that the “humble” Cardinal Bergoglio did not meet with his friends in the Sacred College that day to discuss views of the Church, etc. Rather, on this evening in Rome he dined with four Italian journalists, two of whom were well-known and well-connected Vaticanisti, who — as luck would have it — were all friends and supporters of Bergoglio.  

March 2nd: 

Less than 72 hours later, whether coincidentally or not so coincidentally, Andrea Tornielli, one of the Vaticanisti noted above, published an article (see here) in La Stampa’s Vatican Insider on Cardinal Bergoglio that seemed — whether by intent or simple effect — to launch Bergoglio’s candidacy in the minds of his fellow cardinals now gathered in Rome. Consider, quoting an anonymous cardinal, the article’s opening line famously read: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.” That is certainly a pithy, attention grabber for the cardinals in Rome at the time, all of whom followed this Vaticanisti’s commentary on the conclave and the potential papabili closely. This pithy line in one fell swoop seemed well crafted to allay any potential fears among the cardinal-electors that Bergoglio at 76 might be too old to now be elected pope, and at the same time convey the image of Bergoglio as an agent of “reform” or “change” in the Church.

This is also the day, by my calculation, that ex Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was visited by the mysterious “influential Italian gentleman.” This influential Italian asked McCarrick to “talk up, Bergoglio” in the General Congregations prior to the upcoming conclave (see here). Curiously, this visitor used a line reminiscent of Tornielli’s anonymous cardinal, saying: [Bergoglio] could reform the Church. If we gave him five years, he could put us back on target.“[1] (NB: On this “influential Italian gentleman see The Conclave Chronicles; and on one theory as to his identity, see The “Influential Italian Gentleman”: A Sant’Egidio Connection?).

By this point, McCarrick had already been in Rome since around February 10th, 2013. If one takes McCarrick’s public account at face value, he had not specifically talked up Bergoglio to other cardinals prior to March 2nd, nor had he heard other cardinals speaking of him as a papabile. For some time, we had not seen any confirmation as to whether or not McCarrick ever actually did in fact “talk up, Bergoglio” — that is, until our research documented McCarrick had been heard to be “talking up, Bergoglio” in Rome prior to the conclave (see The Influential Italian Gentleman: McCarrick “touted the praises” of Bergoglio Prior to the Conclave).  

March 13th:

Of course, this is the day in 2013 when Cardinal Bergoglio was elected by the conclave. Following the conclave, that same day, McCarrick confided to at least one prelate, “we did it!” (see McCarrick on Bergoglio’s Election: “We did it!”; and The “we” in “We did it!” — and what they did).  This prelate informed Roma Locuta Est that he understood this to mean that McCarrick and others had campaigned for Bergoglio’s election:

“His very first words to me, before he said anything else – indicating that he had been part of a group working on this – were, “We did it.”  The words left me surprised and pondering. Since I was not involved in any campaign, it seemed to me that McCarrick had been.”

All the above I have covered in greater detail in a series of articles entitled The Conclave Chronicles.  Though there are many outstanding questions, some of mine include the following:

(1) Keeping in mind Benedict XVI was still the reigning pope at the time, was anything regarding Bergoglio’s papal chances or ambitions discussed on February 27th with the Italian journalists, and if so what?;

(2) did Bergoglio have foreknowledge of Tornielli’s article of March 2nd, 2013;

(3) was Bergoglio, himself, the originator of the line “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things”?[1]

(4) Could a current Vatican journalist ask Andrea Riccardi if he is, in fact, the man referenced by McCarrick to be the “influential Italian gentleman” (see The “Influential Italian Gentleman”: A Sant’Egidio Connection?)?

(5) Certainly, McCarrick’s meeting with the “influential Italian gentleman” must have been known to the McCarrick report investigators — as it was included in Vigano’s Testimony to which they were in part responding.  Yet, there is no mention of this meeting in the McCarrick Report (NB: The full report may be found here). The exclusion cannot be a simple oversight (see Glaring Omission in McCarrick Report: What about the “Influential Italian Gentleman?”). 

A. Did the investigators ever attempt to ascertain the identity of the “influential Italian gentleman”?  If so, did they make a determination as to his identity (e.g., did they ask McCarrick)?  If not, why not?  Cleary this “gentleman” sought McCarrick’s support of Bergoglio in the pre-conclave discussions. McCarrick’s support would be important, as we have noted elsewhere, given he was considered particularly influential with third world cardinals, who even Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor acknowledged were the key to the election of Bergoglio (e.g., see HERE).

B.  Why did the McCarrick Report not report the fact the McCarrick had in fact “touted” the praises of Bergoglio prior to the conclave?  

C. The investigators clearly interviewed Pope Francis for this report, as noted for example in footnote 1198.  Did the investigators ever ask Pope Francis if he had any knowledge of the meeting described by McCarrick? If so, did he have foreknowledge of it? For example, did he send the “gentleman” to McCarrick to request he “talk him up” in the General Congregations? 

As we approach the 8th anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, questions remain regarding the events surrounding the conclave.  Perhaps, one day, the answers will surface. Perhaps some enterprising journalists in Rome might ask them as well.

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com  or StevenOReilly@ProtonMail.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on Parler: @StevenOReilly).

Notes:

  1.  Andrea Tornielli published an article on the morning of March 2nd of 2013, the likely day that the “influential Italian gentleman” met with McCarrick. That article — whether by design or happenstance I cannot say for sure — certainly boosted Bergoglio’s papal candidacy (see here). Surely, it must have had that practical effect on the cardinals assembling in Rome at the time. Consider, quoting an anonymous cardinal, the article’s opening line famously read: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.” That is certainly an attention grabber for the cardinals in Rome at the time, all of whom followed Vaticanisti commentary on the conclave and papabili closely.

The infamous “influential Italian gentleman” (see here and here) used a very similar line in his meeting with McCarrick (see Villanova Speech), though he used “five years” — assuming McCarrick had not just simply misremembered or garbled the quote —  instead of “four years” as was written in Tornielli’s article. The ultimate origin of this phrase is a bit murky. The same phrase bubbled up to the surface in various places at the time. It was quoted by at least three separate reporters using two to possibly three separate sources — not to mention its use by the McCarrick’s visitor

The origin of the phrase — “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things …” — is a curious one. As I discuss in more detail in my original article, “The influential Italian Gentleman,”  Tornielli cites an anonymous cardinal, as indicated above. Gerald O’Connell, in his book, The Election of Pope Francis discusses the famous quote. In it, one of O’Connell’s vaticanisti colleagues, Mathilde Burgos, quotes Cardinal Errazuriz, using the same line: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things!” While it is possible Errazuriz used the line with both Burgos and Tornielli, writer Paul Vallely quotes Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s use of the line (see here): “”Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things,” Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and an old friend of Francis, told me.”  This is curious indeed.  We have Cardinal Errazuriz using the line with a Chilean reporter, and we have either Cardinal Errazuriz or Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor using the same line with Tornielli.  Or was it yet another cardinal that used it with Tornielli? With such an circuitous pedigree, the “four years” line appears to be a pre-packaged, electioneering talking point manufactured to defuse concerns cardinals might have about Bergoglio’s age–and indeed there had been such concerns. We know the line was used with at least three different journalists, and was possibly used by two or even three different cardinals, and by the “influential Italian gentleman.” Yet, given this commonality, one may rightly wonder whether the line was even original to any of them!  There is the real and amusing prospect that Cardinal Bergoglio himself was the ultimate and original source of the pithy phrase.


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