The election of Pope John I was greatly assisted by the efforts of a much more prominent cardinal who successfully acted as an intermediary between the right and left wings of the Roman Catholic Church, according to a priest who writes frequently on Vatican politics.

The Rev. Francis X. Murphy, writing in Newsweek, said that Giovanni Cardinal Benelli of Florence played a central role in Cardinal Albino Luciani's election.

Benelli, 57, a powerful Curia official for many years and a favorite of the late Pope Paul VI, had been considered by many to be a likely candidate himself.

According to Murphy's account Benelli, during the nearly three weeks between Paul's death and the opening of the conclave, sensed that a majority of the cardinals wanted a pope with no previous connections to either the Vatican's diplomatic corps or the Curia.

The conservative members of the college of cardinals had failed to agree on one candidate, according to Murphy, and 16 of the 20 Latin American cardinals, at a caucus, had urged the election of a non-Italian pope.

"In telephone calls from Florence to conservative electors, Benelli stressed Luciani's resolute opposition to communism in Italy his strong defense of the church's stand against divorce and abortion and his traditionalist theology," Murphy said. "In calls to Third World bishops, he emphasized Luciani's working class background and genuine care for the poor."

On the first ballot, Murphy said, Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, an outspoken critic of the Second Vatican Council, had 25 votes and Luciani had 23. Two prominent Curia officials. Cardinals Sergio Pignedoli and Sebastiano Baggio, had 18 and 9 votes.

Murphy said the conservatives, fearing that either Baggio or Pignedoli might spurt into an insurmountable lead, shifted their support to Luciani. Baggio, in the eyes of many cardinals, was a careerist and Pignedoli was considered too liberal.

On the second ballot, according to Murphy, Luciani received 56 votes - 19 short of the number he needed for election - and on the third ballot he received more than 90.

Murphy gave no sources for his account of the balloting in the secret conclave.