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Cardinals close off interviews as confidential talks continue

Catholic World News - March 06, 2013

The College of Cardinals has decided to suspend all interviews during the days leading up to the papal conclave, as the cardinals seek to crack down on leaks of their confidential discussions.

Meeting on Wednesday for their 4th “general congregation” of the sede vacante period, the cardinals again postponed a decision on setting a date for their conclave. After the morning session the director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, gave only a vague summary of the topics the cardinals had discussed:

The major theme was the Church in the world, the New Evangelization. Other topics included the Holy See, its dicasteries and relations with bishops. A third theme was a profile of expectations for the next Pope in view of the good government of the Church.

The major news story of the day, however, was the cancellation of a separate briefing that had been scheduled by the American cardinals. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the press director for the US bishops, explained: "Concern was expressed in the general congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers.” The American cardinals agreed to halt interviews as a “precaution,” she said.

Father Lombardi said that the American cardinals’ silence would be in keeping with a general understanding that during the days leading up to a papal conclave, the attitude of the cardinals is “one of reservation in order to safeguard the freedom of reflection on the part of each of the members of the College of Cardinals who has to make such an important decision.”

However, Sister Walsh hinted at the tensions behind the decision to curtail interviews. “The US cardinals are committed to transparency,” she said, adding that the American prelates had been working effectively with the media and responding to the intense demands of the international media for more information about the coming conclave. “Our briefings were popular because we were the only ones other than the Vatican doing them,” she said. Since the official Vatican briefings have generally been confined to bland generalities, the US cardinals’ sessions were appreciated by the hundreds of journalists who have flocked to Rome to cover the papal election.

Sister Walsh said that the demand for silence came because some cardinals were distressed by a story in an Italian newspaper that provided details about a prelate’s address to the congregation—an account that was not derived from the US cardinals’ briefings.

The Italian newspaper story, by leading Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa, had given a fairly detailed account of a talk by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. The Italian prelate had complained that in recent years the officials of the Roman Curia have not met regularly with the Pope, and their initiatives have been overruled by the Secretariat of State, Tornielli reported. The story in La Stampa exposed a violation of the rule that cardinals should not inform reporters about the details of their discussions during the congregations.

Although the Vatican press office provided no such details about the content of the cardinals’ talks, Father Lombardi did disclose that the cardinals have agreed to resume meeting twice a day, beginning on Thursday. On Tuesday the cardinals had cancelled their scheduled afternoon session, preferring less formal consultations; on Wednesday the afternoon discussions were superseded by a special prayer service.

There were 153 cardinals participating in the Wednesday-morning discussions, the press office reporters. Of the 115 cardinal-electors who will enter the conclave, only two had not yet arrived: Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, who was expected Wednesday afternoon; and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, who was due to arrive on Thursday.

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