Mission accomplished. After four years of pontificate, this is the assessment that has been made by the cardinals who brought Jorge Mario Bergoglio to election as pope.
The operation that produced the Francis phenomenon arises from a long time ago, as far back as 2002, when for the first time “L’Espresso” discovered and wrote that the then little-known archbishop of Buenos Aires had leapt to the top of the candidates for the papacy, the real ones, not the figureheads.
It laid the groundwork at the conclave of 2005, when it was to none other than Bergoglio that all the votes were funneled from those who did not want Joseph Ratzinger as pope.
And it came into port at the conclave of 2013, to a large extent because many of his electors still knew very little about that Argentine cardinal, and certainly not that he would deal the Church that “punch in the stomach” spoken of a few days ago by his rival defeated in the Sistine Chapel, Milan archbishop Angelo Scola.
Between Bergoglio and his great electors there was not and is not full agreement. He is the pope of proclamations more than of realizations, of allusions more than of definitions.
There is however one key factor that meets the expectations of a historic turning point of the Church capable of making up for its emblematic lag of “two hundred years” with respect to the modern world that was denounced by Carlo Maria Martini, the cardinal who loved to call himself the “ante-pope,” meaning the anticipator of the one who was to come. And it is the factor of “time.” Which for Bergoglio is a synonym for “initiating processes.” The destination matters little to him, because what counts is the journey.
And in effect it is so. With Francis the Church has become an open construction site. Everything is in movement. Everything is fluid. There is no longer dogma that holds up. One can reexamine everything and act accordingly.
Martini was precisely the sharpest mind of that club of St. Gallen which engineered Bergoglio’s rise to the papacy. It took its name from the Swiss town in which the club met, and included the cardinals Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, Achille Silvestrini, Basil Hume, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Godfried Danneels. Of these only two, Kasper and Danneels, are still at the forefront, rewarded and treated with the highest regard by Pope Francis, in spite of the fact that they represent two national Churches in disarray, the German and the Belgian, and the latter even fell into discredit in 2010 for how he tried to cover up the sexual misdeeds of one of his protege bishops, whose victim was a young nephew of his.
Bergoglio never set foot in St. Gallen. It was the cardinals of the club who adopted him as their ideal candidate, and he adapted himself perfectly to their plan.
Everyone in Argentina remembers him very differently from how he later revealed himself to the world as pope. Taciturn, withdrawn, somber in expression, reserved even with crowds. Not once did he let slip a word or a gesture of disagreement with the reigning pontiffs, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. On the contrary. He praised in writing the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” very severe against the permissive “situational” ethics historically attributed to the Jesuits. He had no qualms over condemning Luther and Calvin as the worst enemies of the Church and of man. He attributed to the devil the deception of a law in favor of homosexual marriage.
But then he sent back home, “to avoid mixed messages,” the Catholics who had gathered outside of parliament for a prayer vigil against the imminent approval of that law. He knelt and had himself blessed in public by a Protestant pastor. He forged friendships with some of them, and also with a Jewish rabbi.
Above all he encouraged his priests not to deny communion to anyone, whether they be married, or cohabiting, or divorced and remarried. With no fuss and without making this decision public, the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires was already doing what the popes at the time prohibited, but he would later permit once he became pope.
In St. Gallen they knew and were taking note. And when Bergoglio was elected, the world learned to recognize him right from the first moment for what he really was. With no more veils.