Oddly Enough

Italian bishops thank God for wrong pope

Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after being elected by the conclave of cardinals, at the Vatican, March 13, 2013. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Italian bishops were so convinced that one of their own would become pope that they sent a congratulatory message to the media thanking God for the election of a prelate from Milan.

The trouble was, the new pope had already been named as Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

The secretary-general of the Italian conference, Monsignor Mariano Crociata, expressed “joy and thanks” to God for the election of Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan in a statement sent to reporters at 8:23 p.m. (3:23 p.m. ET) on Wednesday night.

About 10 minutes earlier, Bergoglio had made his first appearance before the crowds in St. Peter’s Square.

At 9:08 p.m. (4:08 p.m. ET), the Italian bishops conference sent another statement thanking God for the election of the pope, but this time got the name right.

In the days leading up the secret conclave, many Italian newspapers openly promoted Scola as the next pope.

The newspapers - and the bishops conference - appear to have missed the warning contained in a traditional Italian saying that front-runners at a papal conclave are often disappointed.

“He who enters a conclave as a pope, leaves it as a cardinal,” the saying goes. Perhaps it was never more true in the modern age than in the conclave that elected Bergoglio instead of the Italian favorite Scola.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Peter Graff