The Forgotten ‘October Surprise’ of the 2013 Conclave

April 15, 2021 (Steven O’Reilly) – As regular readers of Roma Locuta Est know, we have continued to investigate the events surrounding the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, as well as the conclave of 2013 which elected Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio SJ as pope. One can read our series of articles on these questions in The Conclave Chronicles.

Our interest in such things has been primarily historical. I suspect most readers will have at least some familiarity with the “St. Gallen mafia” and the allegations of its attempt to dethrone Pope Benedict XVI from the Chair of Peter, and elect Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio SJ in his place. All curious. But the interest is, as said, primarily historical. To overturn a papal election with proofs of grave UDG violations would be a tall, if not impossible order to fill. We are just interested in knowing what actually happened in 2013. After that, let the chips fall where they may.

So, this brings us to the latest phase of our investigation. It involves an odd incident that I don’t recall ever seeing mentioned in the four Bergoglian Gospels accounts of his election, i.e., the three “synoptics” by — Austen Ivereigh, Andrea Tornielli, and Gerard O’Connell; and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s conclave account. I’ve been aware of this strange incident for some time, but have only now gotten around to taking a closer look at it. 

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Conclave….

As evening fell the night of March 11 — the day before the start of the conclave, the leading papabile according to the consensus of Vatican observers, and gambling oddsmakers was that  Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. It was he who appeared best positioned to be elected pope. In the days before the conclave, one Italian newspaper even reported Scola could already count on 50 of the 77 votes necessary to win the election (here). 

Cardinal Scola was close to Pope Benedict XVI.  Described as a “confidante” of Benedict’s, Scola was considered a ‘conservative’ sort of Cardinal. He was certainly not a St. Gallen mafia sort of Cardinal (see HERE and HERE), nor was he one the St. Gallen mafia types would want to see as Benedict’s successor upon the papal throne. In view of the above considerations, one might well imagine that when Pope Benedict XVI decided upon his resignation back in December 2012; he did so believing he could safely renounce the papacy on the basis of a reasonable expectation that Scola might likely be elected his successor. Indeed, such an expectation might have been a factor in his decision.

On March 12, 2013, the conclave to elect the successor of Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to begin. After a morning mass at which Cardinal Sodano gave the homily, the Cardinals were to meet later in the afternoon to formally begin the conclave.  The procession into the Sistine chapel began sometime after 4:30pm that afternoon. However, on this day, as dawn broke in Rome — where there was an expectation Scola was the leading contender to be elected to the papacy in the conclave that started later that day; dawn also broke in Milan, where hopes for a Scola papacy may have been dashed. For in Milan, you see, Italian anti-mafia police conducted a series of raids in Lombardy, the area around Milan, as well as other locations. The raids involved an investigation into “corruption linked to tenders by, and supplies to, hospitals” (see HERE). 

I won’t go into the minutiae of the raid or the investigation. What is important here are the ramifications of it all. Apparently, a key target of this investigation was a former Italian politician, Robert Formigoni, who had previously resigned his office following some scandals in 2012. What is of vital importance here is that Formigoni, it turns out, was a lifelong friend of Cardinal Scola, as well as someone closely affiliated with a conservative, Italian lay-Catholic association known as Comunione e Liberazione, or CL as it is abbreviated (Communion and Liberation). Here too, with regard to CL, I will not go into great details on the association.  The important points though are CL had, over time, become involved in politics to some extent. For example, CL’s Catholic membership was credited with having provided key help to elect Silvio Berlusconi as the Italian Prime Minister (who later resigned after a scandal). Formigoni was an important member of CL, and Cardinal Scola had long been a supporter of it as well.[1] The important thing here is, CL was unpopular within certain circles of the College of Cardinals.

With this brief overview, we may return to the aforementioned dawn raid. Some in Rome spun the raid as appearing to tie Scola in some way to the anti-mafia criminal investigation of his lifelong friend, and the issues raised the specter of political corruption seemingly tied to the CL’s political clout.  Some in the media, and certain members of the College of Cardinals put a distinctly anti-Scola spin on the raid, although it had nothing to do with him personally. Consider some of the following examples (emphasis added):

But even as preparations for the mass were being made, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan – and reportedly the hot favourite to be the next pope – suffered a blow.

Anti-mafia detectives swooped on homes, offices, clinics and hospitals in Lombardy, the region around Milan, and elsewhere. A statement said the dawn raids were part of an investigation into “corruption linked to tenders by, and supplies to, hospitals”.

Healthcare in Lombardy is the principal responsibility of the regional administration, which for the past 18 years has been run by Roberto Formigoni, a childhood friend of Scola and the leading political representative of the Communion and Liberation fellowship. Until recently, Scola was seen as the conservative group’s most distinguished ecclesiastical spokesman.

. . .

Scola, who has headed the Milan archdiocese since 2011, is regarded as the champion of a largely non-Italian faction that is challenging the entrenched power of the Vatican cardinals. He was close to the last pope, whose household was run by women members of Communion and Liberation.

He entered the conclave as favourite after the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that his supporters were confident he had the support of up to 50 of the 115 cardinal-electors.

But Scola’s candidacy has been overshadowed by his past links to a movement that has been linked with pervasive sleaze in Lombardy

(Source: Papal conclave: anti-mafia police raid offices in diocese of frontrunner, The Guardian, March 12, 2013)

As an example of some of the reporting later that day and evening that were picked up from the Roman rumor mill, the New York Daily gave voice to the damaging spin the story and rumors took on (emphasis added):

An Italian church leader seen as a papal frontrunner had his saintly image tarnished Tuesday when anti-Mafia investigators raided the offices of companies linked to his shady best friend.

The raids came hours before Angelo Cardinal Scola was locked with 114 other princes of the church inside the Sistine Chapel to pick a new Pope — sending potential shockwaves through the Vatican.”

(Source:  Cardinal Scola, papal frontrunner, tarnished by anti-Mafia raids on healthcare companies linked to his Milan pal, NY Daily News, March 12, 2013)  

Slate magazine pretty much captured the impact the story seemed to have on March 12 in Rome, before the Cardinals went into the conclave, reporting: “Just before the doors to the conclave closed on Tuesday, a story that might be the papabile equivalent of an “October surprise” popped up on the Guardian: Angelo Scola, rumored to be the leading candidate of the so-called “reformer” cardinals, was (very) tenuously connected to the mafia.” (Source: Angelo Scola, Papal Frontrunner, Gets Vatican Version of October Surprise, Slate, March 12, 2013). 

Unfortunately, due to Formigoni’s name, and his associations with CL, Scola’s name was dragged through the rumor mill comprised of cardinals, Vaticanisti, other observers, and reporters. Consequently, in the short news day in which the cardinals entered the conclave later that afternoon, and were to soon to be locked away, and blocked from receiving any more news; the news of the anti-mafia raids could only impart a foul scent upon Scola’s candidacy.

The Impact of the ‘October Surprise’ 

Unfortunately for Scola, and ultimately for the Church as events would later prove; the news demonstrably harmed his papal prospects in at least two respects. First, he was unfairly tainted by his lifelong friendship with Formigoni just as the Cardinals were about to go into the conclave. Some of the reports suggested the raids occurred ‘in the diocese.’ In fact, as the IL Giornale noted: “The English Guardian also mixed politics, justice and conclave with an article entitled “Anti-Mafia raids in the diocese of the front-runner.”[2] While one might charitably say “diocese” was here innocently intended by the Guardian in a purely geographic sense, but for those quickly skimming the news before entering the conclave, one might as easily conclude Scola’s Milan archdiocese was somehow involved in the scandal, or even raided. It wasn’t.

Second, the timing of the raid meant there would be no opportunity for any concerned Cardinals — now locked away from the news of the words — to read more thorough news reports which might either have exonerated Scola, or at least would have provided clearer coverage that might dispel the fires of rumor either planted or fanned by anti-Scola cardinals. However, given Formigoni’s involvement with Comunione e Liberazione, the incident would provide fodder for those cardinals for whom both CL and Scola were a problem, or for whom it was an opportunity to link them in order to torpedo Scola. Consider, citing earlier an Wall Street Journal report, the Atlantic wrote (March 12, 2013) [emphasis added]:

Most of his (Scola’s) critics already have a position on the CL, and as The Journal‘s team reported, at least one Cardinal plans to discuss CL and its corruption exhaustively throughout the conclavewhich may not go beyond this week. Without a doubt, papal watchers say, this new anti-mafia swoop is going to slow if not stop Scola’s quest for 77 votes (the magic two-thirds vote count). According to local sources, Scola has around 50 cardinals locked up in his corner, most of which come from American cardinals and European support.

(Source: The Favorite to Become the Next Pope Might Have Mafia Ties, The Atlantic, March 12, 2013)

As seen above, one Cardinal told the Wall Street Journal he planned to discuss Comunione e Liberazione and its corruption “exhaustively throughout the conclave.” The unnamed European Cardinal also told the Journal that Scola was “‘too connected to politics’ and said he plans to discuss CL in the conclave” (Source: Papal conclave: anti-mafia police raid offices in diocese of frontrunner, Gazetta Del Sud, March 12, 2013). La Republicca provided additional details from the Wall Street Journal, reporting:  “Because, he (the aforementioned cardinal) says, while the consensus on Scola is strong outside Italy, the cardinal’s bond with Cl has eroded his consensus among the Italian purples. Under indictment is “the link between Scola and the governor of Lombardy, Roberto Formigoni.”[2]  How fortuitous for the anti-Scola faction of Cardinals that the anti-mafia raid all too conveniently gave them ammunition to use against Scola among fellow cardinals in the conclave! All this on the day the Cardinals were to enter the conclave.  What a coincidence!

Another curious element is the role of the press, and or some Vaticanisti, and cardinals who were undoubtedly the sources – or echo chamber – for this spin on the story. We know from WSJ reporting one Cardinal volunteered he was going to offer anti-Comunione e Liberazione and anti-Scola arguments in the conclave, and “exhaustively” so.  From the standpoint of the media, there is something which appears a bit odd. It seems it was the British Guardian which first publicly connected the Formigoni raids explicitly to Scola. For example, the Italian The Globalist‘s headline on March 12 was Anti-Mafia Raid in the Diocese: London Cripples Cardinal Scola (see Here, Here). The Italian Globalist, in  fact, stated this in its secondary headline: “Il Guardian mette il papabile vicino a Cl in correlazione con gli ultimi arresti che ci sono stati a Milano. Un ultimo messaggio per i grandi elettori?” which roughly translated reads, The Guardian puts the papabile (papal candidate, i.e., Scola) close to CL in connection with the recent arrests in Milan. A last message for the (papal) electors?

One final thing, like the Guardian which seemed to first make the connection between the raids and Scola, it was another English language newspaper, the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, which provided the anti-Scola sentiments on Scola, and his relationship with Formigoni, and the CL.  Extremely unfortunate, is it not, that these stories appeared in English language papers, the ones perhaps most readily understood by non-Italian cardinals in Rome, particularly those from the third world.

Final Thoughts for the Moment — But Stay Tuned!

The Globalist asked if the raids, and the Guardian’s linking of Scola, Formigoni, and the CL was a “last message for the (papal) electors?”  Indeed, was the raid, and the spin it took “a last message to the electors” that was pre-planned?  Was the raid simply an unfortunate, ill-timed coincidence for Scola, or was it a strategically-timed raid, intended to kneecap Scola? As a former intelligence officer, it was often said:  “there are no such things as coincidences.” Surely, a St. Gallen mafia whispering campaign against Scola before, and during the conclave would be much more effective with a concrete scandal in hand, fresh in the news and top of mind. This sort of story might be especially effective among cardinals weary of the corruption scandals in the Vatican.

Certainly, in American politics there is the idea of the “October Surprise” — that dreaded last minute, embarrassing or difficult to explain revelation or bit of information that becomes public in the last moments of a political campaign, leaving the surprised candidate little time, or opportunity to react before the imminent election [NB: Of course, the concept of the ‘October surprise” is not limited to the United States]. 

Did the St. Gallen mafia, and potential allies in the Italian government (and others?) leave nothing to chance in hopes of electing as pope a certain globalist friendly cardinal by dirtying up and kneecapping his leading contender?

In part II of this series (coming out next week), we will look into other potential questions raised by the forgotten ‘October Surprise’ of the 2013 conclave, such as “who done it?” and “Cui Bono?”; as well as consider some of the implications.  Stay tuned…keep checking Roma Locuta Est for Part II!

Update (4/21/2021).  Part II is now available here:  The Forgotten ‘October Surprise’ (Part II): Cui Bono?

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  or (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on Parler or Gab: @StevenOReilly).


  1. Scola, for certain reasons not important here, had a more arms-length relationship with CL by the time of the conclave. As Slate describes it, CL is  “a conservative lay Catholic group that, among other things, lent substantial support to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi” and that “Until recently, Scola was the Communion and Liberation movement’s biggest advocate among the cardinals” (HERE).
  2. Prima fumata nera Attacco dall’America al favorito Scola Delusione tra la folla sotto la pioggia. Un porporato anonimo al Wall Street Journal: «Solleverò il caso Cl» Angelo Scola I papabili Odilo Pedro Scherer Sean Patrick O’Malley Marc Ouellet Robert Sarah Luis Antonio Tagle,” by Stefano Filippi, Il Giornale. 13 marzo 2013
  3. “Frena la corse di Schere, stabile Scola e non borsino del Conclave spunta Erdo; I papabili; Contro l’italiano l’annuncio anonimo di un cardinale europea; “Sollevero’ il  case CL“, by Paolo Rodari.  La Repubblica13 marzo 2013

2 thoughts on “The Forgotten ‘October Surprise’ of the 2013 Conclave

  1. I, for one, can’t wait to unpack what corruption happened at the conclave that wasn’t a conclave, since a conclave can only be called when the Pope has died or properly and fully renounced his Sede.

    The Holy Spirit was not in that room because there was no conclave and no election. It was all theater. The result of it (whatever you want to call “it”, a conclave I suppose) is now leading the Catholic Church the way of the Chinese Church: in betrayal and submission to godless, secular One World Government.

    We are fiddling while Rome burns.


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