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Rare, leaked report reveals Cardinal O’Malley was a top vote-getter in last papal election

Cardinal Sean O'Malleyspoke at the Archdiocese of Boston Headquarters about the death of former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

A rare, leaked report revealed great uncertainty in the 2013 selection of Pope Francis, with a huge number of cardinals getting votes — including, for the first time, top spots for an American and a Canadian.

In 2013, the top four vote-getters were one Italian, Angelo Scola; Jorge Bergoglio, or Pope Francis, from Argentina; Canadian Marc Ouellet; and Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, according to an article published Friday by America, a Catholic news site.

Scola got 30 votes, Bergoglio 26, Ouellet 22, and O’Malley 10. These were the highest votes ever in a conclave for North Americans, experts said.


Analysts on Friday offered different views of what the votes meant.

Some said it showed the cardinals were strongly driven by a desire for geographical diversity, as the church has been shrinking for years in Europe. Others said Bergoglio’s rise, and a strong showing for O’Malley, showed voters’ attraction to clerics known for their focus on the poor, immigrants, social questions, and a simple lifestyle — compared with those known for their theological focus and correctness and clarity.

Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a historian who runs a center for the study of US Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, said Friday she was shocked O’Malley got so many votes. She noted New York City’s archbishop, Timothy Dolan, got two votes in that first round, according to America.

‘‘If reporters would ask [in 2013]: ‘Could an American be pope?’ I’d laugh. But now I’m not sure about that,’’ she said.

Cummings and O’Connell both said most cardinals recognized global Catholics would be skeptical of a pope from a superpower. She also noted that Americans have been voting in papal conclaves only for roughly the last century.

The O’Malley vote, she said, could reflect voters’ desire for a more simple papal image. The Boston cleric is from a religious order, the Franciscans, like Francis (who is a Jesuit), whose character and style emphasize humility. She said it is possible O’Malley coming from a city associated with rehabilitating from the clergy sex abuse crisis was a strength.


‘‘He has respect and credibility that a lot of people realize the church as a whole is lacking,’’ she said.

The article provides what experts called unprecedented public detail about a conclave — the normally top-secret event in which cardinals select popes. Participants take an oath not to share what goes on inside the rounds of voting, and some papal experts Friday said they feared the detailed leak could corrupt the entire process going forward.

Almost all top vote-getters for centuries have been Europeans, said America’s Vatican reporter, Gerard O’Connell, who wrote the piece entitled ‘‘Inside the election of Pope Francis.’’

Often the final vote tallies get out years after conclaves, but several papal experts said this was the most detailed leak they’d seen.

O’Connell’s story, which excerpts his upcoming book on the conclave, focuses on the first round of Francis’ election. Conclaves require a two-thirds vote and usually take several rounds to get there. Francis’s had five.