Mr. Winters, a papal conclave, Ted McCarrick…and the Holy Spirit?

September 10, 2021 (Steven O’Reilly) – Michael Sean Winters over at the National Catholic Reporter was dumping on various Catholic commentators, such as Phil Lawler, Jeffrey Mirus and Ed Condon, who have raised some questions and or concerns about the coming synod on synods (see Winters article here).

It is the usual pablum from Winters. While I don’t intend to critique his article, there were a few lines that stuck out. Winters, in response to criticisms leveled by the commentators above, writes as he also cites the preparatory document for the synod.  Mr. Winters says:

“That same paragraph is quite explicit about the necessity of relying on the Holy Spirit:

A basic question prompts and guides us: How does this “journeying together,” which takes place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to Her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church? 

Addressing this question together requires listening to the Holy Spirit, who like the wind “blows where it wills; you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (Jn 3:8), remaining open to the surprises that the Spirit will certainly prepare for us along the way.

Conservative critics of Pope Francis have made it clear: They do not like surprises. But the cardinals of the church, having sung the “Veni creator spiritus” as they began their deliberations to elect a successor to St. Peter in the Sistine Chapel in 2013, delivered a surprise to the church. It is evident to most of us that the Spirit had a rather large hand in the surprise election of the man we know as Pope Francis.”

I found Mr. Winters’ comment curious: “It is evident to most of us that the Spirit had a rather large hand in the surprise election of the man we know as Pope Francis.” I think there are at least a couple grounds upon which one might disagree with Mr. Winters. Cardinal Ratzinger, for one, had once commented to the effect that the many examples of bad popes in the history of the Church were proofs against the idea the Holy Spirit chooses the pope.

But, beside that and contrary to Mr. Winters assertion, a close examination of the events surrounding the 2013 conclave suggest others had a “large hand” in the “surprise election of the man we know as Pope Francis.” While Roma Locuta Est’s The Conclave Chronicles provides a more detailed examination of the 2013 conclave, a few of the facts are given below:

  1. In his book The Dictator Pope, Henry Sire observes while Bergoglio made a show of being ‘indifferent’ and “making a circus of not wanting to go to Rome” for the conclave, this was far from the truth. Sire cites El Verdadero Francisco which quotes one priest, who dismissing this pretense of disinterest, said “…I knew that he was talking to half the world and plotting like mad.” That Bergoglio took an active interest in events in Rome following Benedict’s resignation announcement also comes through clear enough in Gerard O’Connell’s book on the conclave (see The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave That Changed History) which is friendly toward Bergoglio.
  2. On the day of Bergoglio’s arrival in Rome (February 27) before the effective date of Pope Benedict’s resignation (February 28), the cardinal — who we are expected to believe would be “surprised” to be elected pope — just happened to dine with four influential Italian journalists, all of whom were close friends and Bergoglian partisans. Two of these close friends with whom Bergoglio dined his first night in Rome were influential Vaticanisti (see here). It seems strange that the humble Cardinal Bergoglio did not first dine with his old friends in the College of Cardinals, or the Roman Curia.  But no.  Rather, he dined with journalists whose trade is inside information, rumor, and interviews with the movers and shakers in Vatican, and who be current on the latest news regarding the conclave and other papabili.
  3. One of these two Vaticanisti (Andrea Tornielli) published an article on the morning of March 2nd that — 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.
  4. On or about March 2nd or 3rd, the infamous “influential Italian gentleman” (see here and here for his potential identity) 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 odd. 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! What all the known sources who used the phrase have in common (Tornielli or his source, Cardinal Errazuriz, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, and ex-cardinal McCarrick’s visitor), is that all were close friends of then-Cardinal Bergoglio. Thus, one might be forgiven for supposing the originator of the phrase was none other than Cardinal Bergoglio himself. After all, the phrase served as a pithy elevator pitch intended to assuage cardinals concerned about Bergoglio’s age, which might have otherwise been of concern for some cardinals in the coming conclave.
  5. Prior to March 2nd, McCarrick was not ‘talking up Bergoglio’ but after the visit from the “influential Italian gentleman,” a friend of Cardinal Bergoglio, he commenced doing so — as the record shows (see The Influential Italian Gentleman: McCarrick “touted the praises” of Bergoglio Prior to the Conclave). It seems unlikely that McCarrick would have been moved to action had this request come from some random acquaintance who did not have a direct link to Bergoglio. What seems more probable is McCarrick was given to understand the request to “talk Bergoglio up” had ultimately come from Bergoglio himself, someone who could specifically favor McCarrick in return. It appears the visitor possibly served as an emissary of Bergoglio (see here).
  6. According to a source (a prelate), immediately after the election of Pope Francis, the source had encountered McCarrick in Rome.  According to the source (emphasis added): “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.” While McCarrick’s we did it” is a short phrase, it is one packed with implications. The statement and the context reported by the witness certainly is consistent with, if not outright confirmation of the hypothesis there was an active campaign — or should we say ‘conspiracy‘ — to elect Cardinal Bergoglio, something that went beyond the mere “exchange of views concerning the election” allowed by papal election rules, e.g., Universi Dominici Gregis  (cf UDG 81).  This despite the strenuous denials to the contrary made over the years by various “St. Gallen mafia” members and or by Bergoglian groupies. In addition, this information is consistent with, if not confirmation of the view McCarrick specifically campaigned for Cardinal Bergoglio’s election–-as requested by the “influential Italian gentleman”–and for which, per Vigano’s Testimony, McCarrick was apparently rewarded by Pope Francis
  7. Going into the conclave, Cardinal Scola was considered one of, if not the leading papabili. It is not beyond the pale to speculate that Pope Benedict XVI may have felt comfortable in his decision to resign because he was of the view that his friend, Cardinal Scola, would be his likely successor. However, an odd thing happened on the morning of the day the conclave was to begin. Italian mafia police raided businesses associated with a close friend of Cardinal Scola. These raids made the early morning press on the day the conclave began, and were considered to have hurt Scola’s chances of being elected.  A coincidence only?  Roma Locuta Est looked into these raids in two part series (see The Forgotten ‘October Surprise’ of the 2013 Conclave and The Forgotten ‘October Surprise’ (Part II): Cui Bono?).  The only one who benefited from this raid was Cardinal Bergoglio.

The above facts and circumstance cited above certainly suggest there were several “large hands” at work — other than the Holy Spirit’s — in what was truly, the “surprise election of the man we know as Pope Francis.” It seems rather clear that Bergoglio sought the papacy from the moment he heard of Benedict XVI’s resignation (see Henry Sire’s book, The Dictator Pope). It is certain Bergoglio met with Italian Vaticanisti the very night of his arrival in Rome before Benedict XVI’s effective resignation, and that one of them, perhaps not so coincidentally, soon after wrote an article quite favorable to Bergoglio’s campaign for the papacy (e.g., see On the 8th Anniversary of the Election of Cardinal Bergoglio).

Further, a seemingly mysterious “influential Italian gentleman” visited then-cardinal McCarrick on March 2nd or 3rd [NB: the nature of McCarrick’s value to a Bergoglian campaign is explained here]. Repeating the line from Tornielli’s article, the influential Italian gentleman asked McCarrick (see here) to campaign for Bergoglio (i.e., “talk him up”).  We also know McCarrick actually did subsequently “talk Bergoglio up” (see The Influential Italian Gentleman: McCarrick “touted the praises” of Bergoglio Prior to the Conclave), and apparently bragged the evening of Bergoglio’s election about his role along with others in getting him elected (see McCarrick on Bergoglio’s Election: “We did it!” and The “we” in “We did it!” — and what they did).  Also, of the two leading potential candidates to be the “influential Italian gentleman,” both are friends of Bergoglio; and one of them is a close friend of both Bergoglio and McCarrick (see The “Influential Italian Gentleman”: A Sant’Egidio Connection?).

Again, the facts and circumstances above are described in greater detail in Roma Locuta Est’s The Conclave Chronicles.  What seems quite evident is that McCarrick had a “rather large hand” in the “surprise election” of Bergoglio. Given the charges and allegations against McCarrick, does Mr. Winters believe McCarrick was an instrument of the Holy Spirit “in the surprise election of the man we know as Pope Francis?”  Based on what Mr. Winters asserted about the election and his belief regarding the Holy Spirit’s “rather large hand” in it — it would seem to follow that McCarrick must have been…though I doubt Mr. Winters would ever want to admit to such a horrid thought!

For my part, I take a more Ratzingerian view of the question.

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).

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