Maike Hickson reports for LifeSiteNews –– Peter Seewald – a convert to Catholicism who co-authored several books with Pope Benedict XVI – is about to publish an authoritative more than 1,000-page long biography of the Pope emeritus. To be released on May 4, it recounts the 2005 election of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, at which Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the head of the so-called “Sankt Gallen Group,” tried to forestall the election of Ratzinger as new Pope. While some of this has been known before, it comes now from someone close to Pope Benedict.
LifeSite published last year a book review of The Election of Pope Francis, Gerald O’Connell’s detailed history of the 2013 conclave that elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. In it, some details were presented regarding the 2005 conclave, including the fact that the progressivist Sankt Gallen Group already then supported the election of Bergoglio. Martini was the head of this group, to which also belonged Cardinals Godfried Danneels, Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. Seewald now adds his own contribution to this important part of Church history. LifeSite has received a review copy of this new book; the German newspaper Tagespost already pre-published this specific chapter on the 2005 conclave.
It has its own significance that Seewald, a close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI who also authored several books with him, has now described the activities of the Sankt Gallen Group – especially Martini – during the 2015 conclave. Part one of his Benedict biography will be published in November 2020 in English.
Seewald says in his forward that Benedict answered over the years many questions – “even the most strange ones” – for this new book and that papal secretary Georg Gaenswein explained to him “with impressive honesty” and generously many circumstances and backgrounds.
Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope on April 19, 2005, on the second day of the conclave. As Seewald shows in his new book, Ratzinger had been the forerunner from the beginning (47 votes at first ballot), with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio being second (with 10 votes).
Seewald sums up the situation after the first ballot on April 28, 2005, as follows: “The most important result, however, was the bad results for the ‘progressivist’ wing of the College of Cardinals. Also the Forbidden Diary [a diary of the Conclave written and published by one participating cardinal] describes as essential piece of information the attempt of the ‘Sankt Gallen Group’ around Martini, Danneels, Lehmann, and Kasper to establish a rival candidate. The purported plan would have opened up the search for a ‘compromise candidate’ by blocking Ratzinger.”
At the second ballot on day 2 of the conclave, the votes that had originally gone to Cardinal Camillo Ruini then were added to Ratzinger’s votes in a subsequent ballot, while the votes from Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini went to Jorge Bergoglio. Ratzinger had 65 votes, Bergoglio 35. As Seewald puts it: “When at 11 a.m. the third ballot started, it had become clear that it was a competition between two favorite candidates: Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Bergoglio.”
This is, then, where Martini comes in. It was, according to Seewald’s research, then that Martini “spread the parole” that Ratzinger was not “apt” to find a sufficient consensus. Should his success not become clear soon, he surely would retire by himself, in order not to block the conclave, and then there could be found a hoped-for compromise candidate.
After Ratzinger increased his votes to 72 in the third ballot (with Bergoglio receiving 40), it became clear that Bergoglio himself could block the election of Ratzinger, since he held enough votes to block a two-thirds majority for Ratzinger. Here, once more, things seemed to be open. “Martini belongs to those,” Seewald quotes once more the Forbidden Diary, “who predict for the following day a complete exchange of the candidates.”
“But then it was not Ratzinger who started to hesitate, but the Argentine,” Seewald comments. As Pope Francis later was to say in public, he at some point asked his supporters to vote for Ratzinger, adding that he saw that the time was “not yet ripe” for a Latin-American Pope.
Thus, during lunch break on that day, April 19, it became clear that Ratzinger was to be elected Pope. Seewald – who knows Benedict XVI close up and well – describes how the cardinal was struggling with himself about this prospect, since he had thought that he had accomplished “his life work.” He thought that there were younger and better candidates.
But then Cardinal Ratzinger remembered a note he had received just before the conclave from the then-93-year-old German Cardinal Augustin Mayer – it “fell into my heart.”
In that note, Cardinal Mayer had told Ratzinger: “Should the Lord now tell you: ‘Follow Me,’ then remember what you have preached. Do not refuse! Be obedient, as you have said it about the great deceased Pope.”
The afternoon comes and with it the fourth ballot. Cardinal Ratzinger is elected Pope. “I covered my face,” Cardinal Joachim Meisner was later to say. “I was moved to tears. And I was not the only one.”
Cardinal Martini’s attempt at forestalling Ratzinger’s election failed.
As Paul Badde, a German Rome Correspondent for EWTN, told LifeSiteNews in an interview, Cardinal Meisner had actually played a crucial role in thwarting the plans of the Sankt Gallen Group. He had learned from Badde about the agenda and names of the Sankt Gallen Group ahead of the conclave, and he was able to spread that information during the conclave.
As Badde told LifeSite: “On 17 April 2005, however, a prelate from within the Vatican called and informed me that he had evidence about a conspiracy of cardinals who had tried to prevent the election of Joseph Ratzinger as next Pope. It was the so-called Sankt Gallen Group, as I know now, and the prelate gave me also a list with their names, among them Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, Cardinal Walter Kasper, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, Cardinal Audrys Juozas Bačkis, and Cardinal Carlo Martini. I called Cardinal Meisner in the afternoon and asked him what to do in a responsible way, since I didn’t want to create a scandal. He got furious, but told me calmly: ‘Follow your conscience.’”
Badde then published, on the first day of the conclave, a newspaper report on this conspiracy against Ratzinger’s election. Meisner himself took that article with him to the conclave along with an image of the Holy Face of Manoppello, which he had visited a few weeks earlier, together with Paul Badde. That image is the face of Our Lord that has been imprinted in a miraculous manner on a piece of silken cloth. Badde relates how Meisner took into the conclave “that article of mine and fought like a lion against this conspiracy, no matter how alone he was, and despite his limited Italian. ‘It’s been the hardest day of my life!’ he later told me, not mentioning, however, any other details.”
“But when the conclave was over,” Badde concluded, “it became clear that Meisner had become the king-maker, or more precisely, the pope-maker.”
As Gerald O’Connell showed in his 2019 book, some of the “kingmakers” of Pope Francis at the 2013 Conclave were Cardinals Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Walter Kasper, and Oscar Maradiaga.
One of their comrades, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, later was to call this group of prelates the “Sankt Gallen Mafia.” In 2015, he stated: “The Sankt-Gallen group is a sort of posh name. But in reality we said of ourselves, and of that group: ‘The Mafia.’”