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Pope’s election took US diplomats by surprise

By on Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prepares for communion at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican before the papal conclave (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite/ File)
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Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prepares for communion at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican before the papal conclave (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite/ File) Ref

Pope Benedict’s election to the papacy took American diplomats by surprise, it emerged this week.

They predicted that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would get a flurry of votes from his fellow cardinals at the beginning of the conclave but that he would be unable to muster the support needed to become Pope.

An April 19 2005 telegram from Rome to Washington signed by Bernt Hardt, says diplomats were “shocked” and “speechless” about the election of Cardinal Ratzinger

According to sensitive State Department documents obtained by La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, American diplomats at the US Embassy to the Holy See listed sixteen papabile, or candidates for the papacy on April 18, 2005, the day the conclave following Pope John Paul II’s death began.

Diplomats had drawn up an earlier document for the then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice only days after John Paul II died, in which they had outlined the likely characteristics of the Pope’s successor.

The document, which was classified as “sensitive”, described the next Pope as a man who was neither too old nor too young so as to avoid having a funeral and conclave too soon, but also to “avoid a papacy as long as John Paul II’s”. The future Pope, they believed, needed to speak Italian in order to control the Vatican’s bureaucracy but would not necessarily be Italian. They thought the candidate would unlikely be from Eastern Europe post-John Paul II, or America because of its status as the last remaining superpower. The future Pope, they wrote, would need to have pastoral experience in order to show his human side and be a good communicator with new media skills.

The Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels was among those considered to be the best candidates by American diplomats. They said Cardinal Danneels “knows how to use a computer” and represents the best compromise between Catholic doctrine and liberalism. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi the Archbishop of Milan was also considered a likely choice because of his connection with young people, while Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos had “organized video conferences with thousands of priests” was considered “the perfect candidate for those who want a Hispanic who knows the Curia”.

In the dossier, American sources cited Cardinal Ratzinger’s brief stint in forced military service in the “last months of World War II”, saying that he would get votes in early ballots but would not be able to get the support. They predicted he would continue to be a “powerful cardinal” and a “guardian of theological orthodoxy”.

The files were released as part of a quarter of a million leaked United States embassy cables which were made public by the Wikileaks website last week.

  • Jeannine

    Characteristics of a likely candidate from the American government's perspective: “”knows how to use a computer””, “”organized video conferences with thousands of priests””, “a good communicator with new media skills”.

    Once again, the American government who sees the world through secular glasses, just doesn't get it.

  • Lfernandes

    To be fair, many Catholics in America (and elsewhere) were surprised at the choice. I was quite disappointed at the time — I was hoping for a selection from Latin America — but I've since come to appreciate and respect Pope Benedict. The Cardinals chose well.

  • nytor

    “Belgian Cardinal Gottfried Daneels was among those considered to be the best candidates by American diplomats”

    Well that shows you how poor their judgment is, doesn't it? I could have told them, then, that Danneels stood not a chance in hell, being not a “compromise” between “doctrine and liberalism”, but in fact just an out-and-out liberal. It could never have happened.

  • aisake040188camaibau

    Don't judge the book by it's cover! I was happy when Cardinal Raztinger was elect as Pope because USA priest are the first to allow gay marriage so if American Cardinals was elected to be a Holy Father this would be implemented in the Church which is unacceptable.The world is praying for a successor, people have choose but God choose who is best to lead his flocks. This would be the same when Solomon was chosen be the King of Israel. I pray may the Lord continue to guide and leaad the Church and not our will be done but HIS HOLY WILL.

  • Karmenu of Malta

    This goes to show that the ways of the Lord are different from those of man. There are no superpowers in God's field of vision, but only weaklings.

  • Cjkeeffe

    Just goes to show how wrong so called experts can be. They probbaly spent most of them time speaking to liberal commentators and journalists. My money was on Ratzinger and as an outside bet Arinze.

    I hope this goes to show that there is no point in second guessing the Holy Spirit and leave the outcome of conclaves to Him. Hopefully, we will not indulge in to much Pope(Idol), when the Holy Father passes away.

  • Te'

    “compromise between Catholic doctrine and liberalism” REALLY?!? SOUNDS LIKE OUR DIPLOMATIC CORP AT THE VATICAN either has a lot of “fallen away” Catholics, or too many Protestants in it. Pick your employees better…….

  • Duvrai

    With respect to the discretion of the author, does anyone know what the source leak of this is? There are currently no leaked cables from the Vatican available on WikiLeaks.

  • GFFM

    The US State department is not known for its savvy when it comes to understanding and comprehending religion. So if this is true, it's not a surprise. Given those in charge in State the contents of this secret missive is not surprising at all. Many Catholics in the US in certain circles had a strong sense that Benedict was in the running; we knew of his close and complimentary relationship to his predecessor. Nevertheless, the election was a day to remember, both for the hope it pointed to and the predictable and simplistic reaction of our press.

  • Billl

    My daughter and I were watching the funeral of Paul II and at the incensing of the coffin

    my daughter remarked:” There is our new pope ”

    Billl

  • Nick

    Go check out “Pope Malachi visions.” It had to be Bennedict.

  • CatholicKiwi

    Not only do the Cardinals choose well, but I know truly that the Holy Spirit wanted him there…