On a day when everyone is recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s historic — and stunning — announcement last Feb. 11 that he intended to resign the papacy comes a fascinating revelation from the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict:
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who reportedly ran second to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in that conclave, later told a fellow cardinal that if he had been elected then he would have taken the name “John” after Pope John XXIII.
Instead, Bergoglio was elected in March of last year two weeks after Benedict resigned and became the first pope named after Francis of Assisi.
“Good Pope John,” as John XXIII is known, also stunned the church and the world by calling the Second Vatican Council that in the 1960s introduced numerous reforms and ushered Roman Catholicism into the modern world.
“John, I would have called myself John, like the Good Pope; I would have been completely inspired by him,” Bergoglio told Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, according to a new book by longtime Italian Vaticanista Gianluca Barile.
(“Giovanni, mi sarei chiamato Giovanni, come il Papa Buono, mi sarei ispirato completamente a lui.”)
The excerpt was highlighted by Marco Tosatti of La Stampa, an Italian daily.
In the 2005 conclave, Bergoglio reportedly received 40 votes after three rounds of balloting in the Sistine Chapel, second to Ratzinger who had 72, just six short of the two-thirds margin necessary for election. Apparently hoping to avoid prolonging the conclave and creating divisions, Bergoglio signaled his supporters not to back him. In the next round he dropped to 26 votes and Ratzinger was elected pope with 84 votes.
Eight years later, on March 13, the cardinals changed their minds and pushed Bergoglio over the top. But Bergoglio also changed his mind on what name he would take, and instead of becoming Pope John XXIV he became the first Pope Francis in history.
But Francis still frequently cites Pope John, an icon to progressive Catholics, and he will formally declare John XXIII a saint in April.