Canada’s Marc Ouellet came close to becoming pope, media reports say

Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet attends a mass at the St Peter's basilica before the conclave on March 12, 2013 at the Vatican. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

VATICAN CITY – Marc Ouellet of Canada almost became the Roman Catholic Church’s first pontiff from the New World before he asked his backers to switch their support to the eventual winner, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, according to several media reports.

That has led to speculation Ouellet is now in line for a powerful new job at the Vatican under the new pope, who has named himself Pope Francis.

Ouellet, the 68-year-old prelate from northwestern Quebec, was neck-and-neck with Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy after the first round of voting by fellow cardinal-electors Tuesday, with the eventual winner, Bergoglio, a strong third, according to reports in several Italian and American newspapers Friday.

Scola could not gain any more votes Wednesday morning after many cardinals apparently decided they did not want a Vatican insider presiding over the Holy See. After that, the media reports claim, it became a two-race between Ouellet and Bergoglio. The Argentinian, unlike Ouellet, Scola and Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer, had seldom been mentioned as one of the favourites before the papal conclave to choose a leader began.

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Ouellet had been touted as a potential compromise candidate if Scola or Scherer faltered, but as it turned out, the cardinals decided the 76-year-old Argentinian Jesuit was an even better compromise candidate. Bergoglio narrowed the gap with Ouellet by picking up more votes Wednesday morning from Scola’s backers than Ouellet did.

Ouellet was “very close” to Bergoglio in the vote count “through the first three rounds,” Il Sole 24 Ore reported. “After that he threw his support to Bergoglio, saying that they had had the same experience in Latin America so they were similar.”

La Repubblica reported more or less the same story about the voting trends, stating Ouellet got strong support early on and then asked cardinals who backed him to throw their support to Bergoglio.

In backing Francis and bringing his votes along with him, Ouellet did what the Argentinian was said to have done eight years ago when Benedict was elected pope. Lying second after three rounds of voting at that conclave, then Cardinal Bergoglio asked his backers to join him in voting for the German cardinal.

“For sure Bergoglio will give him a powerful position,” because he backed Pope Francis’s candidacy so strongly at a crucial moment, the prestigious Italian daily speculated.

Ouellet “will probably aspire to have a stronger role in the future,” was Il Sole 24 Ore’s guess.

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The former Archbishop of Quebec already plays an influential role as the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, which makes him essentially the Vatican’s personnel director for senior clergy – a role he was given by Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis has reportedly already begun deciding who he wants to fire and who he wants to keep at the scandal-plagued Vatican bureaucracy he now runs. Among the jobs that may be open is the Secretary of State. The current holder of that job, Cardinal Tercisio Bertone, was said to have been heavily criticized by some other cardinals during a week of private talks that they had before the conclave officially began. La Repubblica identified Ouellet as a leading contender for this job.

Francis and Ouellet were not thought to be that close, although Il Sole 24 Ore’s reported Friday that they were. The two prelates from the Americas did have at least one long one-on-one conversation in Rome in the days leading up to the conclave, which was called after Benedict’s surprise resignation last month, citing ill health and fatigue. Benedict was the first pontiff to quit in nearly six centuries.

Ouellet served off and on for nearly a decade as a teacher in seminaries and universities in Colombia. He speaks seven languages including excellent Spanish and Italian.

There were signs before the conclave that Ouellet was not eager to become pope. He called the job of pope “a nightmare” in an interview several months ago. After the conclave, other Canadian cardinals and his family in Quebec said he was “relieved” to have not been chosen.


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