February 27, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – Today is the 9th anniversary of Cardinal Bergoglio’s arrival in Rome, on February 27, 2013, the day before the effective date of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. While one might think cardinals arriving in Rome at such a momentous time would first meet and greet one another over lunches, and dinners to discuss Benedict’s resignation and the coming conclave, this was not the case with Cardinal Bergoglio.
On the evening of his arrival, the Cardinal did not dine with his old friends in the College of Cardinals to discuss the conclave, as might be expected. Instead, Bergoglio dined with four Italian journalists, all close friends and Bergoglian partisans. Two of whom were very influential Vaticanisti, Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente; just the sort who could update the Cardinal on the latest news and rumors in Rome, published and unpublished, about the coming conclave.
Three days later, on the morning of March 2, 2013, Tornielli published something of a glowing profile on Bergoglio in Vatican Insider. Curiously, Tornielli did not mention he had dined with Bergoglio just a few evenings before. The article was headlined “South American temptation” with a sub-headline of “The hypothesis of a Latin American Pontiff to give a strong signal of change.” Quoting an “anonymous cardinal,” the article’s opening line famously began with the now, well-known words: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.” The article begins (emphasis added):
“Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things …” whispers a cardinal friend of long time of the archbishop of Buenos Aires. There is the name of a cardinal who does not enter the ranks of the “papabili” these days, because of his age: that of the seventy-six-year-old Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Turin origins, archbishop of the Argentine capital. The candidate who in the third vote of the very rapid conclave of 2005 obtained about forty votes, resulting in the most voted candidate after Ratzinger. In recent years his prestige has grown in the Latin American Church and also within the college of cardinals. It is not excluded that he may still collect votes, but he will certainly be one of the key figures destined to have weight in the general congregations and on the conclave. In his diocese,
«All the ordinary activity of the Church is set in view of the mission – said Bergoglio speaking of evangelization – This implies a very strong tension between the center and the periphery, between the parish and the neighborhood. You have to get out of yourself, go to the periphery. The spiritual disease of the self-referential Church must be avoided: when it becomes one, the Church falls ill. It is true that going out on the street, as happens to every man and every woman, accidents can happen. But if the Church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. And between a bumpy Church that goes out into the street, and a Church sick with self-referentiality, I have no doubts in preferring the former ».
On the occasion of the consistory of February 2012, celebrated in the midst of the storm of the vatileaks, Bergoglio affirmed that the “worst sin in the Church” is “the attitude of spiritual worldliness”, which also includes “careerism and the search for progress” . Those who wish for a significant change of pace could look to him.
The article goes on to discuss the possibility of a Latin American pope, and briefly survey a list of a few other cardinals. But it’s clear, with the initial couple of paragraphs, the focus was on Bergoglio. For just-arrived cardinal-electors, attentively following the latest Vaticanisti articles on the upcoming conclave as they gathered in Rome, the article undoubtedly had the practical effect of centering attention on, as well as boosting the papal prospects of Bergoglio. It certainly did not hurt.
There are a few mysteries here in the purpose and origin of the line Tornielli attributed to an “anonymous cardinal”: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.” At 76 years of age, there naturally would be some questions raised about the suitability of Bergoglio to be elected pope due to his age – and there had been questions. Thus, the “four years of Bergoglio…” line appears to be a designed, electioneering talking point; manufactured to defuse any age concerns over Bergoglio.
Given this possibility, who might have originated this talking point? Tornielli cited an anonymous cardinal. Gerald O’Connell (another journalist-friend of Cardinal Bergoglio), in his book, The Election of Pope Francis, discusses the famous quote. In it, O’Connell’s cites one of his vaticanisti colleagues, Mathilde Burgos, as having quoted Cardinal Errazuriz as a source of the infamous “four years…” line. While it is possible Cardinal Errazuriz used the line with both Burgos and Tornielli, writer Paul Vallely also quotes Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor — who Vallely describes as “an old friend of Francis” — as having used the same phrase (see here). We know Errazuriz used the “four years” line with a Chilean reporter, so it is possible either Cardinal Errazuriz or Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was Tornielli’s source. Or was it yet another cardinal that used it with Tornielli? Adding to the mystery is that the “influential Italian gentleman” used the same line when asking then-Cardinal McCarrick to ‘talk up Bergoglio’ in the upcoming pre-conclave congregations attended by the cardinals (see The “Influential Italian Gentleman”, and other related articles in the The Conclave Chronicles).
It is possible many of those named above got the line from Tornielli’s article. That might just show the power of the article, I suppose. However, it is interesting that all those named above who used it, are known to have campaigned for Bergoglio – including the “influential Italian gentleman.” So, it still smacks of being a pithy campaign slogan parroted by Bergoglio’s supporters.
My own hypothesis is that Cardinal Bergoglio was the source of the famous line. He has said things which seem reminiscent of its theme addressing his age, and only having “four or five years.” For example, he was quoted in an interview in 2015 by a Mexican journalist (emphasis added):
“I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief,” said the pope. “Four or five years. I do not know, or two, three. Well, two have already passed.” (Source: NCR Online. See HERE)
So, we see in this statement that Pope Francis personally harbored the thoughts his pontificate would be brief, lasting “four or five years.” Therefore, in the interview response, there seems an echo of the “four years” used by Andrea Tornielli, Cardinal Errasuiz, and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor; as well as the “five years” used by the “influential Italian gentleman” with McCarrick. Consequently, it is does not appear to be a stretch to hypothesize that it was Cardinal Bergoglio who first spoke the famous line, hoping to promote his own candidacy, perhaps saying something to the effect: ‘if elected, even at my age, four or five years would be enough for me to change the Church.’
If Bergoglio was the originator, what then does it say about Tornielli’s article of March 2nd? Was Bergoglio the “anonymous cardinal” quoted at the outset of the article? Was this discussed at the February 27th dinner, while Benedict XVI was still pope? Did Bergoglio have foreknowledge of Tornielli’s intention to quote him, and write a piece favorable to his candidacy? Was it only a stroke of luck for Bergoglio that his good friend Tornielli penned such an article, or was there more to it?
These are all questions for which we may never have the answers. Still, let us consider whether there may be any basis to entertain the suspicion that something more might have happened here than meets the eye. Let us fast forward five years from the events of 2013 to when Cardinal Bergoglio was now Pope Francis. In August 2018, Archbishop Viganò released his famous Testimony which stunned the Catholic world with its accusations, and evidence that top prelates in the Church, including Francis, looked the other way with regard to the allegations against then-Cardinal McCarrick.
Catholics around the world were quite interested to hear what Pope Francis — then in Ireland on a papal visit — might say in response to the accusations levelled against him by Viganò. Obviously, Francis could either completely deny the conversation happened at all; or perhaps, he could provide a differing version than the one offered by Viganò. But, certainly, he would say something. He need to. So it was that Catholics eagerly awaited what Francis would say. Though Catholics would not have to wait long for Francis to speak, they would be incredibly puzzled and perplexed by his answer when he did. Replying to questions during an airplane press conference during his trip back from Ireland, Pope Francis refused to comment on Viganò’s accusations, choosing instead to respond quite obscurely (emphasis added):
“I will not say a single word about this. I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions. It’s an act of faith. When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak. But, I would like your professional maturity to do the work for you. It will be good for you. That’s good.”
Say what? The pope was in the best position to confirm, deny, or challenge Viganò’s allegations. Yet, Pope Francis bizarrely insisted that it should be journalists who “do the work” of assessing the accusations against him, rather than he who should respond to their questions. Utterly bizarre. What could Francis be thinking?
A little over two months later, the Pope’s seeming “act of faith” in the journalistic profession was rewarded when a newly published book attempted to shift any blame for McCarrick away from Francis and onto others, while at the same time attacking Viganò’s personal credibility. But was it simply that the Pope’s “act of faith” paid off, or was something else going on here — other than “faith”? What seems probable, and appears to really be the only credible way to account for the Pope’s bizarre comment on the airplane coming back from Ireland is that Francis knew this book was in the works. And how might that be? Well, it turns out this book was authored by Francis’s old journalist-friends, Tornielli and Valente — the same with whom he had dined upon his arrival in Rome for the conclave, the same ones with whom we began this article. The same Tornielli who wrote the March 2. 2013 article referenced earlier – the one which began: “four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.”
What does this all mean? One scenario is that the idea for this book was conceived while Francis was still in Ireland, immediately following the release of Viganò’s Testimony. In this scenario, the book was conceived as the means to both respond to and deflect Viganò’s accusations — i.e., something like damage control for Francis. An alternative scenario is that the book had been in the works since the McCarrick story first bubbled to the surface in the news, a few months earlier. In which case, the book was designed to deflect questions about Francis’ own dealings with McCarrick that would certainly arise.
In either of the two cases above, the Pope’s comments during the trip back from Ireland clearly indicate (1) the Pope’s awareness of the fact this book would soon be forthcoming, as well as (2) the Pope’s probable, direct involvement in its conceptual planning. It is interesting to note that in December 2018, only one month after the publication of the book, Pope Francis appointed Tornielli as editorial director of the Dicastery of Communication at the Vatican.
The above in mind, we now return to the origin of the infamous line: “four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.” Was Cardinal Bergoglio himself the one to create this pithy, campaign pitch; perhaps first introduced at that dinner with journalists on February 27, 2013, while Benedict was still pope? Was it only a stroke of good fortune for Cardinal Bergoglio’s papal candidacy that his good friend Tornielli penned the article published on the morning of March 2, 2013? Or, was there more to it as appears to be the case with the book published after Viganò’s accusations?
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 GETTR, Parler, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).