Leaked U.S. State Department cables published by Wikileaks show that the U.S. Vatican Embassy saw the future Pope Francis as a contender for the papacy in the 2005 conclave, reporting him to be a “wise pastor” who could appeal to allies of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Six cables mention Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires who became Pope Francis on March 13. One of the unclassified cables, dated April 18, 2005, includes a detailed profile that examined the Argentine cardinal as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II.
“Bergoglio exemplifies the virtues of the wise pastor that many electors value,” said the cable authored by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. “Observers have praised his humility: he has been reluctant to accept honors or hold high office and commutes to work on a bus.”
The cable was signed by the U.S. embassy’s then-Charge d’Affaires D. Brent Hardt and was sent the day the 2005 conclave began. It discussed the future Pope Francis as one of 16 possible candidates.
“Bergoglio is said to prefer life in the local Church as opposed to a bureaucratic existence in Rome’s ecclesiastical structures, but at the same time he has been willing to serve on the Vatican's various supervisory committees,” the cable continued.
The embassy analysis said this preference indicated the cardinal could bridge what it characterized as a “divide” between the curia and the cardinal archbishops of local Catholic churches. In the embassy’s view, this made Cardinal Bergoglio “a good compromise candidate” for voting cardinals.
The embassy said the cardinal’s membership in the Jesuit order “could count against him,” citing some senior prelates who are “suspicious of a liberal streak in the order.”
The embassy analysis said Cardinal Bergoglio, along with Cardinals Ruini and Scola, would be “suitable to the Ratzinger camp.”
Like most observers, the embassy incorrectly believed there was not enough conclave support for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would be elected Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005.
In late 2010 the whistleblower website Wikileaks published about 250,000 leaked State Department cables as part of its “Cablegate” project. Hundreds of the cables touched on Catholic issues, including 700 cables originating from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.
Catholic News Agency published multiple in-depth reports on the documents from late 2010 through September 2011.
Cardinal Bergoglio is mentioned by name in a total of eight State Department cables in the Cablegate archive, which does not contain all State Department communications from 2010 and earlier.
Several of the cables concern the Catholic Church’s sometimes tense relationship with the Argentine government, especially with current President Cristina Kirchner and her predecessor and late husband President Nestor Kirchner.
An Oct. 11, 2007 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires said that some observers consider Cardinal Bergoglio to be “a leader of the opposition” to the administration of President Nestor Kirchner.
The cable suggested that the conviction of the Catholic priest Christian Von Wernich for his role as an accomplice in murder, torture and illegal imprisonment during Argentina’s “Dirty War” would be used to undermine the moral authority of the Catholic Church and the cardinal.
One confidential cable sent in January 2010 mentioned Cardinal Bergoglio in the context of U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martinez’s meeting with Gabriela Michetti. Michetti is a former vice-mayor of Buenos Aires who presently sits in the lower chamber of Argentina’s legislature as a national deputy from Argentina's center-right Republican Proposal (PRO) party.
The cable said Michetti maintained “regular dialogue” with Cardinal Bergoglio and other Catholic groups.