Action Alert!

Following up: might cardinals have been authorized to disclose conclave secrets?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 27, 2019

Responding to my post from Monday, about cardinals who violate their oaths by disclosing the secrets of a papal conclave, several readers have made the observation that it’s possible Pope Francis gave permission to one or more cardinals to speak about the voting process. That is at least a theoretical possibility; the rules of the conclave do allow the elected Pope to dispense the cardinals from their vow of secrecy.

But is that a likely explanation? If Pope Francis decided that it was unnecessary and/or undesirable to maintain the secrecy of the voting, wouldn’t it seem more appropriate for him to make a public statement to that effect? If he only gives permission in secret, he allows for the possibility of a scandal— such as the one we now have— in which it certainly looks as if the vow has been broken.

And if the Pope did give permission for one cardinal to speak about the conclave, wouldn’t it be more logical to allow all the cardinals that freedom? Otherwise the Pontiff might be accused of promoting one particular viewpoint on the conclave: a viewpoint that could not be corrected, insofar as other cardinals would still be bound to maintain their silence.

Finally, if a cardinal did have papal permission to speak out, it would behoove him to say so. He could eliminate all concerns, and enhance the credibility of his own report, if he said: “I, Cardinal N., having been authorize by the Holy Father to speak about the proceedings of the conclave, can report…” Then the public would have no reason to doubt either his accuracy or his motivation.

In the absence of some such statement, from either the Pontiff or the prelate(s) who provided the vote totals, we are left with the bare hypothetical possibility that the disclosures were authorized, and the much greater probability that they were not.

Unfortunately, the record of history— the leaks that have followed every recent conclave— weighs heavily against the hypothesis that the disclosure was authorized. Still more unfortunately, we have been given many reminders in recent years that some cardinals aren’t bothered by breaking vows.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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