Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'ConnorGetty Images

A new biography of Pope Francis reveals that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, played a huge role in a lobbying campaign to elect the Argentine pontiff. The cardinal is the son of Irish parents.

The Telegraph reports that the choice to elect the largely unknown Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Benedict XVI’s successor came as a surprise to Vatican watchers. 

But a new book called "The Great Reformer," discloses the secret, organized campaign orchestrated by a small group of European cardinals that author Austen Ivereigh nicknames “Team Bergoglio.” 

In the 2005 conclave, Cardinal Bergoglio was put forward by a group of mostly European reformists, but his chances were impeded by “a dirty tricks campaign by opponents from Argentina,” writes the Telegraph. That year, Bergoglio made it clear he did not want to be the focus of a faction and urged his supporters to back Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. 

By 2013, the 76-year-old was widely discounted for his age and because he had said he did not wish to stand in the way of Cardinal Ratzinger; however, the desire for reform in the Vatican had become increasingly intense.

“Spotting their moment, the initiative was now seized by the European reformers who in 2005 had pushed for Bergoglio,” writes Ivereigh, who served as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s former press secretary.

Ivereigh writes that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, at the time 80 years old and no longer with a vote in the conclave, teamed up with German cardinal Walter Kasper, who controversially called for remarried divorcees to be allowed to receive communion at the synod held in Rome earlier this year.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s role included lobbying his North American counterparts and to act as a link for those from Commonwealth countries.

“They had learnt their lessons from 2005,” explains Ivereigh. “They first secured Bergoglio’s assent. Asked if he was willing, he said that he believed that at this time of crisis for the Church no cardinal could refuse if asked.

“Murphy-O’Connor knowingly warned him to 'be careful’, and that it was his turn now, and was told 'capisco’ – 'I understand’.

“Then they got to work, touring the cardinals’ dinners to promote their man, arguing that his age – 76 – should no longer be considered an obstacle, given that popes could resign. Having understood from 2005 the dynamics of a conclave, they knew that votes traveled to those who made a strong showing out of the gate.”

According to the Telegraph, the turning point came during the series of closed meetings before the conclave, known as congregations, when Cardinal Bergoglio gave a moving speech about the state of the Church.

Iverneigh writes that a ban on official updates about what was happening in these congregations meant that the information that did emerge was primarily leaks focused on fighting within the church.

“For this reason and because the organizers of his campaign stayed largely below the radar, the Bergoglio bandwagon that began to roll during the week of the congregations went undetected by the media and to this day most [Vatican watchers] believe there was no organized pre-conclave effort to get Bergoglio elected,” he says.