VATICAN CITY - The Canadian cardinal considered a front-runner for the papacy expressed relief Friday that he wasn't chosen to lead the Roman Catholic Church.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet was beaming as he conducted interviews with Quebec-based media at the Vatican, saying he was already sleeping better since the conclave ended with Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio being selected Pope on Wednesday.
"Every time I heard my name being uttered during the vote count I was thinking to myself, 'What are these people thinking? The Romans are crazy!'" Ouellet told Montreal La Presse, using a playful turn of phrase borrowed from the cartoon "Asterix and Obelix."
"I was psychologically prepared for any result. When I saw the cardinals lining up behind someone else, I was relieved. The result of the conclave was the best one possible."
Ouellet's comments came as Italian media reports said the 68-year-old from La Motte, Que., apparently came very close to becoming pope.
According to Italian news outlet Il Solo 24 Ore, Ouellet tied with the Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola in early voting at the Sistine Chapel, with Bergoglio coming in third.
The report says Scola was later unable to gain further support after many cardinals decided against choosing a Vatican insider to lead the Roman Catholic Church.
Ouellet then reportedly convinced his fellow cardinals to throw their support behind Bergoglio, who eventually became Pope Francis.
Italy's La Republica newspaper also reported that Ouellet received strong support in early ballots and then asked his fellow cardinals to support Bergoglio.
Both news outlets speculated the new pontiff would reward Ouellet for his support by giving him an influential new position at the Vatican.
At least one Italian writer with the Panorama news weekly speculated, however, that Ouellet received early support from the other cardinals out of respect and an acknowledgment of his front-runner status.
Ouellet currently heads the Vatican's bishops' office, where he plays a key role in the selection of bishops and archbishops around the world.
Despite his prominence within the church, there had long been speculation that Ouellet wasn't particularly enthusiastic about being one of the top contenders for the papacy.
He famously once said it would be "a nightmare" to be pope.
"I see the work the Pope has to do. It's maybe not so enviable. It's a crushing responsibility... There's the help of the holy spirit, for sure, but it's a very big responsibility. Nobody campaigns for that," he told a Quebec City newspaper during an interview in 2011.