ROME -- The choice of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope was so surprising that the Italian bishops sent out an email congratulating the wrong man.
His profile was so low that he was barely mentioned by the feverish handicappers and Vaticanologists who make their living scrutinizing the Holy See.
But the Argentine emerged from the conclave a swiftly anointed Pope Francis on Wednesday evening, barely 28 hours after it began.
While the workings of the conclave are secret, Cardinal Bergoglio won the papacy, according to comments from cardinals, Vatican experts and leaks to Italian newspapers, in part because the Vatican-based cardinals protective of their bureaucracy snubbed the presumptive front-runner, and a favored candidate of reformers, Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan.
That created an opening for a Latin-American Jesuit whose attractive mix of piety, humility and administrative skills won over many cardinals, including those intent on addressing the recent Vatican troubles with corruption and disarray in its hierarchy, or curia. Still, it remains to be seen how, and if, Pope Francis will fulfill those hopes.
"By choosing Bergoglio, we chose someone who was not in the curia system, because of his mission and his ministry," Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, said in a news conference. "He is not part of the Italian system, but also at the same time, because of his culture and background, he was Italo-compatible. If there was a chance that someone could intervene with justice in this situation, he was the man who could do it best."
Pope Francis' immediate march to the papacy began with the all-inclusive meetings of cardinals, called congregations, that occurred before the conclave. They function roughly like primary season in U.S. presidential elections. The cardinals all give speeches -- some 150 this time -- talk among themselves and size one another up.
Cardinal Bergoglio "talked about the need of the church to stay focused on her mission, the spiritual mission," Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said in a briefing for a few reporters. "He always, always has a preferential option for the poor." That seemed to strike a chord.
At the same time, he kept a low profile ahead of the conclave, making few public appearances or statements. Giving the appearance of holding oneself out as a possible pope is one of the worst political mistakes ahead of a conclave, and he avoided it. He may have had good reason, given his prominent place in the last conclave, in 2005.
The most authoritative accounts of that election suggest that Cardinal Bergoglio garnered the second most votes to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the penultimate round. Then, at lunch, he was said to have thrown his votes to Cardinal Ratzinger, who was quickly elected Benedict XVI. Some accounts suggest that he did not want to be pope; others, that he knew he did not have a chance of winning.
It is difficult to know whether his role in the last conclave had an effect on the thinking of his fellow 114 cardinals this week, 47 of whom took part in the 2005 balloting. An unwritten rule holds that a second-place finisher should not be chosen pope, because it could be seen as a slight to the previous pope. But Benedict's resignation at 85, the first of a pope in 598 years, may have changed that thinking.
Cardinal Bergoglio apparently went through the conclave's first voting round, which occurred Tuesday evening, as a leading vote-getter, but a number of other eminences garnered some votes. Carlo Marroni, who covers the Vatican for Il Solo 24 Ore, reported that Cardinals Bergoglio, Scola and Marc Ouellet of Canada were the leaders.
Ignazio Ingrao, Vatican expert for the Panorama newsweekly, said cardinals voted at the start for a number of individuals as a "courtesy vote." But "then they went fairly quickly to Bergoglio," he said.
In the final round of voting, the future Pope Francis hit 77 -- the required two-thirds minimum for election -- before all the votes were counted. He ended up with "more than sufficient" votes to win, said Brazil's Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo. The final tally was kept secret.
Cardinal Scola went into the conclave with a solid block of votes, including many of the Americans and Europeans, who saw in him an Italian who was nevertheless at a distance from the Vatican intrigues. But it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be enough, particularly given what news reports said was the opposition of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the powerful secretary of state under Pope Benedict.