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Covering the Conclave, and Enjoying It

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 05, 2013

During the period leading up to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, I would describe my mood as sadness buoyed by a certain excitement and even optimism. I watched the news closely just to chronicle the Pope’s final days in office. But now that Benedict has stepped down, and we are awaiting the election of his successor, my natural excitement is increasingly on hold. I’m relaxing a bit, and I am watching the news primarily for enjoyment.

Granted, there are certain facts that we do want to know, such as when the conclave will actually begin. But as the journalists and the cardinals get together in Rome before the conclave starts, we are bombarded with procedural trivia, bizarre attempts to get in on the ecclesiastical action, and what we might call electoral gamesmanship on the part of the cardinals. The larger truth is that we will not know anything significant until the white smoke rises upon the election of the next pope. Apart from reminding us of our duty to pray, I think Our Lord really does want us to enjoy it all.

Certainly the more bizarre stories are entertaining, such as the poster campaign in favor of the election of Cardinal Turkson (the Ghanaian head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) and also the effort of a fraudulent bishop to get into the preliminary meetings among the cardinals. Based on these two stories we know exactly two things: Imposters are unlikely to infiltrate the process; and Cardinal Turkson, whatever his merits, will never be elected pope.

Also very entertaining are the frequent reports concerning what this or that cardinal has to say about the priorities for the next pope. For example, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who has served as deputy Secretary of State, called for a greater role for women along with superior priestly formation. One wonders at the juxtaposition. And Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) argued that transparency and evangelization must come first.

One never knows how to take these reports. Are the cardinals simply responding to interview questions, or are they trying to let other cardinals know where they stand in the hope of building momentum for their own candidacy? Is Cardinal Marc Ouellet (the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, from Quebec) sincere when he says that the thought of being pope causes fear and leads him to prayer? What did Cardinal George Pell (Sydney) really mean to convey when he said the next pope must concentrate on Vatican governance? Did Cardinal Timothy Dolan (New York) have anyone in mind when he described the ideal papal candidate? Nobody knows.

Nobody knows exactly how much of this to report either. Our news director Phil Lawler and I talked this over today, and agreed that the decision to run stories like this has to be a case-by-case judgment call. Phil tries to assess whether a quoted cardinal has said anything interesting, as opposed to being blandly predictable. He asks whether a story help us to get to know the candidates a little better, even though we need not cast our own votes. He reflects on whether a story sheds any light on broader ecclesiastical affairs. Still, it is tempting to have some fun. Hence the story entitled ‘My brother, Cardinal Dolan’.

According to the latest reports, the cardinals meeting in congregation seem also intent on savoring the moment. They have not been eager to rush the conclave forward. They are content to ask for prayers, take time to settle in, allow for some pre-conclave posturing and negotiating, and perhaps just get to know each other a little better. This may be wise. They may also wish to learn more about the Vatileaks scandal, and what the ensuing investigation has turned up. In any case, they have a very serious decision to make, and it will be upon them soon enough.

Meanwhile, the whole spectacle is remarkably enjoyable for those of us who really can do nothing but pray, wait, and look on from a distance. While it would be a mistake to take a vacation from our Catholic responsibilities, there is always a special feeling during the interval between pontificates. As we follow all the news and speculation, we are actually savoring a special kind of Catholic cultural experience, one that in its own way increases our insight into the Church. She is such a striking combination of human and Divine elements! There is nothing else remotely like her in all the world.

So let us enjoy this time of prayer and anticipation, this time of all too natural commentary and decidedly supernatural hope. We are being presented with great theater, and I say without any irreverence that it simply ought to be fun. We await something momentous which at the moment is God’s own secret. We have had two very great popes over a period of thirty-five years. Yet perhaps the third time really is the charm. Who—and how great—will this next pope be?

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  • Posted by: dt.dean9713 - Mar. 08, 2013 4:03 AM ET USA

    In the cross between human and divine elements, one can sure be struck at how human this can be. If it was the divine that struck at the heart of Church politics, then perhaps the divine would also strike in other areas of life. When human elements control the Church, divine elements can do little but to die off. This is truly unfortunate.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Mar. 05, 2013 9:00 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Marc Ouellet is from Quebec City, not Montreal. And, yes, knowing him I believe he is quite sincere in saying the thought of being elected pope frightens him and drives him to prayer. In these times it should frighten anyone sane and make them pray harder. (Personally, I'm praying that the Holy Spirit will lead the conclave to elect Marc Ouellet. The Church could do a lot worse than this good man.)

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Mar. 05, 2013 7:39 PM ET USA

    Oh, I'm disappointed, Jeff. You're not going to be covering breaking news like the Catholic Fishwrap's exclusive 30-second footage and reportage of Cardinal Burke leaving the General Congregation? http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/cardinal-burke-among-those-leaving-cardinals-meetings Hey, McElwee actually saw Cardinal Burke "praying with a rosary at his side." I mean, that's just Pulitzer Prize winning stuff right there.

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