Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who died last week, helped engineer the election of Pope Francis through an astute manipulation of the Vatican social scene.
The claim is made in a book to be published next month by former editor of The Tablet, Catherine Pepinster, The Keys and The Kingdom: Britain and the Papacy from John Paul II to Francis.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Pepinster says Murphy-O'Connor co-hosted a reception at the British Embassy in Rome to garner support for the then Cardinal Bergoglio.
He had been disappointed by the election of Francis' predecessor Pope Benedict and wanted to ensure the next Pope was a reformer. So he deliberately did not invite two conservative clerics, Cardinal Ouellet from Canada and Cardinal Pell from Australia, now facing child abuse charges.
Murphy-O'Connor planned to persuade the guests of the need for a reforming Pope, more easily done without the presence of the conservatives.
Pepinster told the Telegraph: 'Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was a popular, genial man but beneath his jovial exterior was someone of great canniness who knew exactly how the Vatican worked.
'And that canniness meant he ensured his friend was elected Pope Francis – a pope who has made a huge impact on the Catholic Church and the world. There have been kingmakers in history; Cormac Murphy-O'Connor turned out to be a popemaker.'
Shortly after his election Francis was overheard telling Murphy-O'Connor: 'Tuo e colpevole', translated as 'You're to blame.'