Although the “St Gallen Mafia” is well known to most who follow the papacy and the Vatican, the vast majority of Catholics are unlikely to have ever heard of it.
And yet this group’s influence on the direction of the Church and all of the current and recent upheavals of this pontificate cannot be overestimated.
Founded in the mid-1990s, the clandestine group of high-ranking churchmen gathered in the Swiss city of St Gallen to oppose a Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger papacy.
Hosted by St Gallen’s then-bishop, Ivo Fürer, its members included Cardinals José da Cruz Policarpo, then Patriarch of Lisbon, Carlo Maria Martini, Godfried Danneels, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Achille Silvestrini, Lubomyr Husar, Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann.
Their efforts at the 2005 conclave to install a heterodox, progressive candidate failed, thanks in large part to strong resistance led by Cardinal Joachim Meisner.
The group, which Cardinal Danneels jokingly referred to as a “mafia,” then appeared to cease meeting from 2006 but its influence lived on in the form of a looser network that paved the way for Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s ascendance to the Chair of St Peter less than seven years later.
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