In the months leading up to the election of the Catholic Church's new pope, I published my debut fiction thriller, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits. Among other things, it's about the Jesuits having their fill of financial and sexual corruption in the Catholic Church, blackmailing the pope with secret documents, and taking control of the Vatican bank and the church.
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election on March 13 is a triple first. He's the first pope from the Americas. He's the first Pope Francis. He's the first pope to be a Jesuit, an order suppressed by Pope Cement XIV and an order held in suspicion by many other popes. He's also a rarity as the first pope in centuries who should give pause to elitists, financial oligarchs, and self-serving politicians.
Life sometimes imitates art, and this is one of those times. The actual events surrounding the pope's election are as astonishing as my fictional conspiracies.
A Pope Resigns
Pope Benedict XVI, 85, was no doubt weary when he announced he would retire at the end of February and make way for the election of a new pope. It was a rare act and hadn't happened in centuries. Many other popes had been old and ill, yet they didn't resign; their papacies ended with their deaths.
What was different this time?
The Catholic Church has been under siege by demons of its own design. It's plagued with sexual and financial scandals. A recent scandal known as Vatileaks revealed that the pope's former butler leaked embarrassing papal documents to an Italian journalist.
In Rome, a scandal was heating up about male prostitutes blackmailing gay priests. Pope Benedict XVI received a 300 page report in December about the possible blackmail. This came on the heels of more than a decade of revelations about other sexual and financial scandals.
A Cardinal's Sex Scandal
The final blow to Pope Benedict XVI may have come from Britain. Catherine Deveney of the Observer broke a story about the highest placed Catholic in the United Kingdom, Scotland's supposedly celibate Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh.
Three priests and one former priest gave sworn signed statements in a complaint they made to the papal nuncio detailing allegations of O'Brien's abuse of authority and inappropriate sexual advances. As Deveney pointed out, the issue isn't homosexuality; it's hypocrisy. O'Brien stepped down shortly after the scandal became public.
The papal nuncio received the complaints on or about February 8 or 9, and Pope Benedict XVI, former head of the Vatican department that investigated internal sexual misconduct, announced his resignation on February 11.
A Favored Cardinal Falls from Grace
Pope Benedict XVI's resignation paved the way for a papal election, but it in no way assured the election of Jesuit Cardinal Bergoglio.
Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, appeared to be the favorite candidate. He was close to the just-resigned pope. Of the 115 electoral votes, Cardinal Scola had already sewn up around 50 votes before the conclave. On March 12, the Washington Post reported he was a "safe pick" for the new pope.
But just hours before the conclave, anti-mafia investigators swooped into Cardinal Scola's diocese. Allegations of conspiracy and corruption hit the Italian newspapers just as foreign cardinals, previously unaware of the scandal, assembled to contemplate their votes.
Pope Francis I: An Inspired Choice
Cardinal Bergoglio was well liked prior to the conclave, even if he wasn't the frontrunner. The dashing of Cardinal Scola's chances certainly helped Bergoglio.
After winning the election, Cardinal Bergoglio took the name Pope Francis I in honor of the humble comforter of the poor, St. Francis of Assisi. He wants a church that is poor and a church that is for the poor. It's an extraordinary position in a church administered by many cardinals who are fond of the kind of luxury and power that Jesus Christ eschewed.
Pope Francis I remarked that the Holy Spirit had inspired the events surrounding his election:
It was he who inspired the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church. It was he who inspired the choice of the cardinals.
However it came about, the Vatican is now ruled by a Jesuit pope committed to helping the powerless and the poor, and his election was apparently made possible by the downfall of the privileged and the greedy.
See also: Pope Benedict XVI Resigns From a Church in Crisis - February 12, 2013, Homosexuality in the Catholic Church - November 20, 2012, and Vatican City: True Financial Crime and Murder - November 9, 2012.
EndNote: I'll have more on this topic in an upcoming non-fiction book, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits Companion. Meanwhile, my novel, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, is available via Amazon in the following countries: United States and India, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, Japan, and Germany.