Eyebrows were raised right from the very first vote in the Sistine Chapel when the archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, who had been favorite to become pope only gained 30 votes, much less than anticipated.
The second most-voted candidate, with 26 votes, was Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, on that afternoon in March 12, 2013.
How this, a surprising result for many, came about amid dinners, meetings and Vatican intrigues, is recounted with journalistic rigor and relying on impeccable sources from within the secret of the conclave by Irish columnist Gerard O'Connell in his book: "The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave That Changed History."
O'Connell reveals that until Mar. 9, when it was Bergoglio's turn to give his speech, “nobody had spoken of him.”
It was, “an unforgettable three-and-a-half-minute intervention in Spanish that catapulted him onto the radar screen of many electors,” O'Connell said.
The Rome correspondent of the magazine of the Society of Jesus, America Magazine, recounts in the form of a diary the inside story of this historic conclave with its secret dinners, "fake news" about Bergoglio’s health and the final altruistic yet decisive gesture by Cardinal Scola.
In his reconstruction of those frantic days, O'Connell details how Italy’s newspapers were convinced Scola had entered the Sistine Chapel with about 40 votes.
However, the veteran Vatican specialist explained that during the general congregations, the meetings of the entire College of Cardinals before the conclave, "an anti-Italian sentiment seemed to have begun to arise among some foreign cardinals who realized that almost all the actors involved in the Vatileaks scandal were Italian."
A question that had arisen in the previous meetings among the cardinals was: “Do we need another Italian? Do we need another theologian pope?” he wrote.
A secret dinner that Cardinal Attilio Nicora, who led the anti-Scola group, held at his home just before the conclave with 15 or more Latin American, European and Asian cardinals whom he persuaded to support Bergoglio was of vital importance for the election of the Argentine archbishop, he said.
Already inside the Sistine Chapel, in total isolation as O'Connell has been able to reconstruct, the result of the first vote of the conclave was 30 votes for Scola, Ratzinger's favorite: far from the 40 that many expected.
Bergoglio collected 26 cardinals and the third in the standings was the Canadian Marc Ouellet, followed by the American Sean Patrick O'Malley with 10 and the Brazilian Odilo Pedro Scherer with four.
One of the cardinals misspelled Bergoglio’s name and his ballot had to be canceled so the archbishop of Buenos Aires would have had 27 votes.
After the first night of meetings in the Santa Marta residence, the second ballot proved that Bergoglio overcame Scola with 45 votes.
At lunch in Santa Marta some cardinals who did not want the Jesuit to win began to spread rumors that the archbishop of Buenos Aires was missing a lung and that he was not in good health.
The book tells that even Spaniard Santos Abril y Castelló went directly to Bergoglio during that meal to clear up his doubts.
The author reveals that after the third vote, in which Bergoglio reached 56 compared to 41 in favor of the Italian cardinal, "Scola stayed behind with a group of Italian cardinals who were supporting him, including Bagnasco, Caffarra and Betori," and told them to vote for the Argentine cardinal.
“The archbishop of Milan saw the writing on the wall and looked as if he didn’t want to go on, but his Italian backers sought to convince him otherwise. He urged them to vote for Bergoglio," he said.
Early on Mar. 13, the 115 Cardinals returned to vote. The result was: Bergoglio, 45 votes; Scola, 38; Marc Ouellet, 24, and in the fourth election of the afternoon, the archbishop of Buenos Aires reached the 77 votes needed to be elected.
There was loud applause in the Sistine Chapel after which Bergoglio got up and went to hug Scola.
His good friend who was sitting next to him in the conclave, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, turned to him, embraced him, and told him not to forget the poor.