Wikileaks: US Never Expected Ratzinger Elected as Pope

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[Updated Below]

Wikileaks information has been disclosed by Rome Reports that the U.S. intelligence services were completely caught off guard and surprised at the election of then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

[Found another YouTube video that works]

Updated as of 10:40am Central time, 11-30-2010 AD:

U.S. intelligence was expecting a Latin American as the next pope, and predicted that then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger would have lost in the first round voting.

The rest from Father Zuhlsdorf:

Before the election the staff of the US embassy to the Holy See sent speculations to Washington about the one to be elected.

“The first factor will be age, the cardinals will seek someone who is neither too young nor too old, because they don’t want to have another funeral and conclave quickly” but “they also want to avoid having a long pontificate like that of John Paul II.”  Furthermore, “it will be a person in reasonably good health”.  Another element will be “linguistic ability” and he will have to know Italian.

Yes, folks, this is penetrating analysis from the US embassy to the Holy See.

Going on… they opined that it would be a Latin American cardinal.  Perhaps they were glued to CNN.  Had they been listening to FoxNews and people like me (was a contributor at the time) they would have gotten it right.  But I digress.

On the day of the election itself, there was a cable to Washington which pooh-poohed the possible election of Ratzinger.  Apparently the election shocked them.  They were also bamboolzed by media reports that Ratzinger was an “autocratic despot”.  That’s what you get when your remote TV control is stuck on CNN and you hang only with liberal clergy in Rome.  On the other hand, when one of them high up in the embassy met Cardinal Ratzinger  he was described as “surprisingly humble, spiritual and easy to deal with”.

There were speculations about a Rome/Germany axis for the Church.  Lord… did they really have people that dense working in the US embassy back then?  And that was during an administration friendly toward the Holy See.

On 12 May 2005 there was the aforementioned 7 page document “Benedict XVI: Looking Ahead to the New Pontificate” which projected what was going to happen with an “identikit” of the new Pope.  It suggested that this Pope would act in continuity with his predecessor.  It included the line: “in time of crisis the Church finds refuge in European identity.  They also suggested that this new Pope would battle secularism in the USA and the rest of the West, turning his attention also to developing nations, in particular Latin America were there are many disappointed Catholics because a Latin American Pope wasn’t elected.

From what I can glean from the article in La Stampa, the folks in the US embassy to the Holy See were mired in cliches and working from preconceptions which blinded them to the facts in front of their faces before the election.   As a personal aside: about a year before the death of John Paul, I made a bet with another journalist about who would be elected… not whom we wanted to see elected, but whom we thought actually would be.  We could choose three in order of likelihood.  My choice of Ratzinger at the top of the list brought out a laugh of incredulity.  But to be fair I laughed also at his choice of Cardinal Danneels.  That anecdote serves to show something of the mindset of a lot of people floating close to the center of things, those most “in the know” and involved in speculation (a Vatican watcher obsession).

It seems to me that the Catholic Church is fairly important.  The US State Department would do well to put competent, serious people who really understand the workings of the Church in their embassy to the Holy See.

(see Father Z)

(Cross-posted at CVSTOS FIDEI)

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  1. One good thing about Wikileaks: It will demonstrate the incoherency (faintly perceptible in Fr. Z’s remarks) of those who are rightfully critical of domestic bureaucracies but who still seem to believe that the State Department and/or the Pentagon could be any less bureucratic or incompetent. Fr. Z seems almost *surprised* at the incompetency of the intelligence. But the State Department and Military *are* largely incompetent. They are no different from the post office or the DMV, just more dangerous.

  2. But the State Department and Military *are* largely incompetent. They are no different from the post office or the DMV, just more dangerous.

    Largely ‘incompetant’ by whose standards at what? Dangerous to whom? You can compare the Postal Service to UPS and FedEx as a standard of performance. To what are you comparing the United States Military?

  3. “Incompetent”: OED 2.a: “Of inadequate ability or fitness; not having the requisite capacity or qualification; incapable. Const. to, to do something.”

    The concept does not require a comparison with another entity to be made intellegible. What are the final ends or goals of the State Department and of the Pentagon? Do the actions of these entities achieve these ends or fail to?

  4. Well, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo (Pontifical Council for the Family) had been on my short list. I suppose it was good that he was not elected because he died three years later (at the young age of 72).

  5. What are the final ends or goals of the State Department and of the Pentagon? Do the actions of these entities achieve these ends or fail to?

    You never defined any goals, nor offered a concept of what counts as an achievable goal. (And no, the question of who can do the U.S. Military’s job better than the U.S. Military is not irrelevant to your remarks).

  6. It is curious that our government would find the election of the Pope curious. Do they also do intelligence on the elections of the Archbisop of Cantebury?

  7. Popes matter globally, unlike the Archbishops of Canterbury who do not even matter in the UK.

    I would take these wikileaks with a large boulder of salt. One of the curses of government is the huge amount of useless paper generated. Intelligence agencies are especially prone to this type of bloat, and often the opinions aren’t any better than you could find on blogs, except that the taxpayers pay us zip for doing this. However, if the CIA is ever eager to have a Catholic blog all its own… 🙂

  8. “On the day of the election itself, there was a cable to Washington which pooh-poohed the possible election of Ratzinger. Apparently the election shocked them.”

    I wonder what President Bush’s reaction was? As I’ve noted before, on the very day, and at the very hour, Pope Benedict’s election was announced, Bush was in Springfield for the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I remember hearing both events reported live on my car radio while driving between newspaper assignments….

    Also, isn’t there a rumor, persistent allegation, or whatever to the effect that when Pope Paul VI was elected in 1963, Cardinal Spellman secretly transmitted the result to a CIA operative in Rome with some kind of hidden two-way radio? Not saying it’s true but I just wonder if anyone else has heard this. If true (and that’s a HUGE “if”) then it would seem to indicate that the CIA cultivated some, shall we say, much more reliable contacts within the Vatican in those days.

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