VATICAN CITY – Latin American cardinals, touted as papal contenders, appear to have posed little challenge to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (search) when it became time to decide, according to accounts emerging from the secret conclave.
"Many were the names of Latin American cardinals mentioned in the press as `papabili,' but in the voting, they were nowhere to be seen," Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop of Santiago, Chile, told The Associated Press.
Others who voted in the election said the qualities of the German cardinal, a theologian and the Vatican's longtime guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, were viewed as superb, indicating it wasn't much of a contest.
Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI (search), was elected Tuesday on the fourth round of voting over two days — one of the shortest conclaves in a century.
"That we chose Benedict XVI so quickly means that it went well, that his name carried great value," Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski told The Associated Press in an interview a day after the election.
"Everyone knows Ratzinger was an important collaborator of John Paul II, that he was very faithful, and was a convinced, enthusiastic collaborator," said Grocholewski, who has worked several years in a top Vatican post. "The wish was to continue with this path."
Ratzinger was "one of the most-prepared cardinals, if not the most prepared one," Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes said at an informal news conference Thursday.
"He's a holy man, a humble man ... who, when you get down to it, wants to do the work of God, in service to humanity," said the Brazilian, whose own name was frequently mentioned as among the top papal contenders, or "papabili," as these cardinals are called by Italians.
Many of the cardinals prefaced their remarks to reporters with a caution they had no intention of breaking their mandatory vows of secrecy. Then, gushing with enthusiasm over the winner, they talked.
"Without giving anything away, I can say certainly there were Third World, Latin American concerns, not so much candidates but concerns, regarding poverty, and the church, on the side of the poor, was very much on a lot of the cardinals' minds," said British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
Italian state TV said there were indications Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, a conservative Jesuit, took a "handful of votes," in the first round, but after that, the momentum was relentless for Ratzinger.
It also said that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini was a leading contender in initial balloting.
But the 78-year-old Martini, who said he wanted to dedicate himself to prayer and reflection when he retired as Milan archbishop a few years ago, had made clear he didn't want to be pontiff.
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels was quoted as telling the Flemish daily De Morgen: "The election of Cardinal Ratzinger showed that it still wasn't the moment for a Latin American pope."
He didn't want to elaborate.
"If I say it, I violate the secrecy of the conclave and I don't want to be expelled by the church," Danneels was quoted as saying.
The penalty for violating the vow of secrecy is excommunication.
New York Cardinal Edward Egan (search), who worked for years in Rome and at the Vatican, was asked whether the new pope had the support of Catholics in Latin America and Africa.
"Obviously, he must have had support from the Third World," Egan said a few hours after Benedict was elected.
Hummes and other cardinals have indicated the voting didn't follow national or regional lines.
"It's not an important question where the pope comes from," said the Brazilian, contending that most of the "expectation" for a Third World pope had been whipped up by media.
Latin America had 20 cardinals who voted and Africa had 11. The biggest bloc by continent was Europe, with 58.
The cardinals wouldn't say how many votes Ratzinger got. A minimum of 77 was needed for the required two-thirds majority of the 115 cardinals who voted.
But comments by some indicated the winning cardinal took more than that. Murphy-O'Connor, for example, said there was a collective gasp when it was clear Ratzinger had taken at least the required minimum.
The Chilean cardinal said there were no alliances or agreements among the voters, but rather lots of prayer to "go ask God to tell us the name of the pope."
"Being pope is a tremendous burden," said Errazuriz Ossa. "It raises a lot of expectations. ... I don't believe there are many candidates to be pope."
Before the conclave, some Vatican watchers expressed reservations about the 78-year-old Ratzinger as a papal candidate because of his age, especially since frail health dogged John Paul II in the last years of his papacy.
"Age isn't important," Hummes said, when asked if cardinals had worried about health problems or life expectancy when making their choices. "There were some very short papacies which did great work."