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Everything listed under: conclave

  • New cardinals and a soon-to-be octogenarian pope

    This week Pope Francis is creating 17 new cardinals, including 13 under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in the next conclave.

    Next month, the pope celebrates his 80th birthday.

    The 80-year mark has sometimes been floated as a default age for papal retirement, but there is certainly no sign that the Argentine pope has any intention of resigning his office. Francis has said he doesn’t like the idea of an age limit for the papacy, which he believes enjoys a “special grace.” At the same time, he has said Pope Benedict’s resignation in 2013 (at the age of 85) should not be considered an exception in the modern church.

    It’s become increasingly clear that in choosing new cardinals, Francis is looking for prelates who share his vision of the church as a “field hospital,” less concerned with doctrinal rules and more involved with people in their daily lives. The pope needs their support today and, in a certain sense, his legacy will one day rest in their hands.

    The three U.S. churchmen receiving their red hats this week endorse the pope’s fresh approach, which features flexibility on pastoral issues – including but not limited to the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. The three are Cardinal-designates Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis (just appointed to head the Newark archdiocese), and Kevin J. Farrell, who will head the new Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life.

    If Pope Francis has a strategy in his cardinal selections, it might be called “break the mold.” He has chosen bishops from several diocese and countries that have never had a cardinal before, part of his push to include the voices of the church’s “periphery.”

    The idea of protecting his legacy may not be the first thing on his mind, but these cardinals are, after all, the ones who will one day elect his successor. The next conclave, whenever it occurs, will test the level of hierarchical support for the changes adopted by this pope. As the past week has demonstrated, not all cardinals are on the pope’s wavelength: four eminences saw fit to publicly challenge Francis’ opening on the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried.

    This week’s consistory will alter the population a bit among the 120 voting-age cardinals (121 until Nov. 28.) Let’s look at a few numbers:

    -- With the new appointments, Pope Francis will have named about 37 percent of the potential cardinal-electors. That’s significant after only three and a half years in office. However, it may well take the pope another three years – from now until October 2019 – to reach the 50 percent mark of cardinal-electors. That’s because relatively fewer cardinals will turn 80 during that period.

    For now, the rest of the would-be voters in a conclave are made up of cardinals appointed by Pope Benedict XVI (46 percent) and Pope John Paul II (17 percent).

    -- If the pope remains in office another five years, he will have the opportunity to name at least an additional 32 cardinals. As a result, by his 85th birthday he may well have appointed 58 percent of the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave. But that’s a long way from today.

    By way of contrast, when Pope John Paul II died at the age of 84 (after a pontificate of more than 26 years), he had appointed all but two of the 115 cardinals who voted in the conclave to elect his successor.

    -- The geographical balance of cardinal-electors is slowly shifting under Pope Francis. After Saturday’s consistory, Europeans will represent 44.6 percent of voting-age cardinals, down from 52 percent three and a half years ago. The percentage of electors from North America has dropped slightly, to 10.7 percent, and gone up a bit for Latin Americans, to 17.4 percent. The biggest gains have come among cardinals from Africa (now 12.4 percent of total electors), Asia (11.6 percent) and Oceania (3.3 percent).

    -- The influence of the Roman Curia in a future conclave is declining somewhat but remains strong. About 27 percent of potential cardinal-electors today are active or retired Rome-based Vatican officials, and that goes up to 34 percent when one includes archbishops in other places who once worked in the Roman Curia.

    The Curia cardinals, in my opinion, are the closest thing to a “bloc” in a future conclave. Traditionally, this group has had great influence in the selection of a new pope – these cardinals operate at the center of the universal church, have frequent contact with other cardinals and local bishops, and are more experienced in ecclesial politics. The conclave of 2013 was an exception to this rule, a moment when the world’s cardinals took issue with Roman Curia missteps and infighting, and elected a true outsider to the papacy.  Read More...

  • The pope's first Sunday: A multitude and close encounters


             U.S. pilgrims at the pope's first Sunday blessing

    When Pope Francis looked out his apartment window at noon today, he got a glimpse of what kind of excitement he’s generated in his first four days as pontiff. Well over 150,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square and the main streets running from the Vatican to the Tiber River.

    I haven’t seen a cheering, flag-waving multitude like that in Rome since Pope John Paul II’s beatification.

    The pope’s brief talk focused on God’s mercy, which has already become a theme of his pontificate. He said the Gospel’s account of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”) illustrates that the church’s role is not to condemn, but to forgive.

    “Don’t forget this: the Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking forgiveness,” he said, to applause from the crowd.

    Mercy, the pope said "is the best word we can hear: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just."

    He gave a nice shout-out to German Cardinal Walter Kasper – “a very capable theologian” – and said he’d been reading a book Kasper wrote about mercy and how “it changes everything” for the person who experiences it.

    The pope joked, “Don’t think I do publicity for books of my cardinals!”

    Before ducking back into his apartment, he wished the crowd “buon pranzo” – Have a nice lunch! – not exactly a religious message, but one that resonated with every Italian.

    A parish pastor

    Pope Francis’ first Sunday Mass was not celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica, but in the tiny St. Anne’s Church – the parish church of Vatican City residents and workers.

    Here, too, he spoke about mercy, and seemed to suggest that Christians today, like the people of the Gospel, have trouble living up to the teachings about forgiveness.

    “We too, I think, are this people who, on one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other, sometimes we like to beat up on others, condemn the others,” he said.

    “The message of Jesus is mercy. For me, and I say this with humility, mercy is the strongest message of the Lord,” he said.

    The new pope looked every bit the parish pastor, delivering his sermon without notes and, at the end of the Mass, greeting every parishioner one by one as he stood outside the church doors in his liturgical garb.

    It was clear that, although Pope Francis has a reputation of being camera-shy and reserved, he is a people person. He seemed to relish every one of the mini-encounters with the men, women and children in the parish, giving them each a few words, a kiss or a caress on the cheek.

    Then he walked out to the street on the Vatican City border and delighted a crowd of cheering Romans, as his security staff scrambled to control the situation.

    Hermeneutic of the Holy Spirit

    The word “hermeneutic” is not on the tip of every Catholic’s tongue, but it was a significant term during the eight years of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. The word refers to an interpretive key, or a way of reading a text or event.

    For the German pope, the church was divided by the way it implemented the Second Vatican Council, what he called “an unacceptable hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” vs. “a hermeneutic of continuity and reform.”

    The word became almost emblematic of Benedict’s pontificate. So it was interesting to see Pope Francis use it – in a much different way – in his encounter with journalists Saturday. The “hermeneutic” of his pontificate, he seemed to be saying, is the action of the Holy Spirit.

    “In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit. He prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election,” he said.

    “It is important, dear friends, to take into due account this way of looking at things, this hermeneutic, in order to bring into proper focus what really happened in these days.”

    During the conclave, I noticed that none of the cardinal electors – including Cardinal Bergoglio, the new pope – had participated in Vatican II. I suspect that Pope Francis will be much less likely to use the council to frame the issues of church debate.

    First tweet

    Pope Francis has begun using the @Pontifex Twitter account, asking for people's prayers today. 


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  • Changes ahead in the Roman Curia?

    A two-sentence communiqué from the Vatican today contained an important signal about Pope Francis’ intentions regarding the Roman Curia. As is normal, the new pope has confirmed that Vatican officials will continue in their various positions donec aliter provideatur – “until otherwise provided.” What was different this time around was the line that followed: “The Holy Father, in fact, wants to take a certain time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before making any definitive appointments or co...  Read More...

  • 'How I would like a church that is poor, and for the poor'


          Journalists greeted Pope Francis today at the Vatican

    Pope Francis held his first meeting with the press today, and impressed them with what has become characteristic low-key charm.

    Addressing several thousand journalists in the Vatican audience hall, he set his prepared text aside and told the story about how he chose his papal name.

    As the vote moved increasingly toward the “dangerous” two-thirds majority, he said, he received encouragement from his old friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who sat next to him in the Sistine Chapel.

    When he went over the two-thirds mark of 77 votes, Cardinal Hummes hugged him, kissed him and said simply, “Don’t forget the poor.”

    Those first words to the new pope have remained on his mind, Pope Francis said. Looking out at the journalists, the new pope declared with emphasis: “Ah, how I would like a church that is poor, and for the poor.”

    As the ballot-counting continued in the Sistine, he said, he thought of St. Francis as the saint of the poor, as the man of goodness and peace, as a man who “loved and protected creation,” the same created world that modern society has a hard time protecting.

    And so he chose Saint Francis of Assisi as his new namesake. He added that other names were suggested to him – Adrian, after a famous reforming pope, for example. He said someone even jokingly suggested taking the name Pope Clement XV, to get even with Pope Clement XIV, who suppressed the Jesuit order in the 1800s. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit.)

    He had a couple of other thoughts for journalists, too. Reporting on the church is different from other contemporary matters, he said, because the church is essentially a spiritual organization that does “not fit into worldly categories.”

    “The church does not have a political nature,” he said. That, too, was pronounced deliberately – no doubt the pope read all about the presumed political jockeying in the Italian newspapers during the run-up to the conclave.

    He urged reporters to remember what he called a “trinity of communication” in their work: truth, goodness and beauty.

    The pope’s blessing to journalists was unusual, to say the least. Saying that he realized there were non-Catholics and non-believers present in the hall, he would “give this blessing in silence, from my heart, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each person, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.”

    Then, instead of the usual formal blessing – standard practice at papal audiences – he said quietly, “God bless you,” and walked off the stage.

    That left some immensely pleased at the pope’s sensitivity, and others complaining loudly: “What kind of a blessing was that?”

    Well, it was the kind of blessing Pope Francis wanted to give. And more and more, I’m getting the impression that this is a man who is not simply “getting used to being pope,” but who is coming into the office with clear, and very different, ideas.

    As a postscript, when Pope Francis walked out of the audience hall, the papal limousine was waiting for him. But the pope waved it off and kept walking, happy to go by foot to his Vatican residence a short distance away.

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  • First the gestures, now the words


         Pope Francis speaking during his Mass with cardinals

    A new pontificate is judged chiefly on gestures, words and decisions.

    Through his gestures, Pope Francis has already won the hearts of many inside and outside the church. Wearing his old black shoes, riding the bus and paying his pensione bill immediately announced a new and simpler style of papacy.

    In a world that communicates largely in images, this is no small matter. “Jesus was born in a manger” is sometimes heard sarcastically by visitors to the Vatican’s rather opulent chambers, and a pope who dials down the extravagance will have a positive reception.

    On Thursday, we heard some of the first words from Pope Francis, in a homily to the cardinals who elected him the 266th pontiff. The words were challenging, and gave a clue to the kind of “reforms” Francis may have in mind. (It was interesting that the pope set aside a draft text prepared in advance for this occasion, and preferred to speak off-the-cuff.)

    His basic point was that a church that doesn’t remain true to the message of “Christ on the cross” risks drifting into a worldly way of thinking that ultimately leads nowhere.

    A church that builds structures without the firm foundation of faith, he said, is like “children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away.” Without professing Christ, the church would become merely a “charitable NGO.”

    He then quoted Léon Bloy, a French agnostic who converted to Catholicism: “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.”

    “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness,” the pope said.

    And more: “When we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”

    These are words – the devil! – that may strike listeners as severe. Some may even see an implication that anything outside the church is beyond salvation.

    I think what the pope was signaling was something different. I think he was speaking above all to the cardinals in the room, and letting them know that the church reforms he has in mind are not going to be coming out of a management manual, but will be motivated by the most radical demands of the Gospel.

    ‘We are brothers’

    Today the pope gave a very different kind of talk, when he met with cardinals – both electors in the conclave and those over the age of 80. He had a text but departed from it often, speaking in a conversational style.

    He kept emphasizing that “we are brothers” and a “community of friends” – perhaps a signal of how he views collegiality.

    And he talked frankly about the fact that this was, after all, a gathering of a pretty elderly group.

    “Dear brothers, maybe half of us are in old age. Old age is the seat of the wisdom of life. We have the wisdom of having walked through life like Simeon and Anna at the temple. Let us give this wisdom to the youth, like good wine, that with age becomes even better.”

    Pope Francis also acknowledged the generally sympathetic international reaction to his election.

    “I felt the affection of the universal church,” and even from people who do not share the Catholic faith, he said. “From every corner of the earth I felt prayers for the new pope.”

    He indicated he would try to build on that affection, and he encouraged the cardinals to do the same. “Let’s never give to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.” (Yes, “the devil.”)

    Neither of these first two talks was exactly a “state of the church” address, or an outline of what he sees as his priorities. Maybe we’ll get that at his installation Mass next week, maybe not. Pope Francis appears to be a man of few words, and as someone told me today, he likes short liturgies.

    Waiting for first appointments

    The new pope’s first major decisions will probably be his appointments, in particular that of secretary of state. He clearly needs someone in that position who knows the Roman Curia well enough to navigate its tricky currents, and make reforms without too much collateral damage.


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  • Pope Francis' first 24 hours: Doing it his way


         Pope Francis on his way to pray at a Rome church

    One of the first things a new pope hears is, “Holy Father, it’s always done this way.”

    In his first 24 hours in office, Pope Francis has already given indications that he may not be intimidated by those words, as he creates his own style of being pope.

    That was clear from the moment he put on his papal robes, donning the simple white cassock but declining to wear the ermine-trimmed red cape known as the mozzetta, which was left hanging on the wardrobe in the Room of Tears.

    To Vatican officials who offered him an elaborate gold pectoral cross to wear around the neck, he said he’d prefer to keep his very simple cross that he’s worn as a bishop. He accepted the congratulations of cardinals not seated on a traditional throne-like chair, but standing up and greeting them one by one.

    After his blessing last night to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square and to the world, Vatican aides told the pope a limousine was waiting to take him to his temporary quarters in the Vatican’s residence building. The new pope said he’d rather take the bus back with the cardinals – and he did.

    This morning, the pope’s first act was to leave the Vatican for an impromptu visit to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in central Rome. No doubt someone told him: “But Holy Father, we need time to plan these visits very carefully.” He wisely didn’t listen. Yes, his presence snarled traffic and caused a major stir, but the Romans loved it.

    Instead of taking the main car in the papal fleet, a Mercedes with the “SCV 1” license plate, he rode in a more modest sedan.

    On the way inside the basilica, he stopped to wave to high school students across the street. After praying before a popular icon of Mary, he told confessors at the church to “be merciful, the souls of the faithful need your mercy.”

    Then he stopped personally at a clerical guest house where he had been staying in recent days, a few steps from Piazza Navona, to pick up his suitcases and “pay his bill,” as he told cardinals the night before. One can presume his Vatican handlers offered to send someone else on this humdrum task, but Pope Francis did it his way.


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  • First thoughts about Pope Francis


      Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter's Square

    Wow.

    The first Jesuit pope. The first Latin American pope. The first pope to choose the name Francis.

    And already there are signs that he will find a new way of being pope. Asking for the people's prayers for God's blessing before delivering your own, for example, was a pretty eloquent act of humility.

    Within minutes, the Vatican had announced that Pope Francis' first major audience will be on Saturday, when he meets the more than 5,000 journalists covering his election.

    I was part of the live ABC News panel this evening watching it all unfold, perched above St. Peter's Square. Diane Sawyer anchored, with fellow commentators Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Terry Moran and Cokie Roberts.

    When we heard the name "Bergoglio" in the "Habemus Papam" announcement, we all did a double-take. As I wrote here two days ago, I had heard Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's name increasingly mentioned by some well-informed people, so he was high on my short list. But his election on the second day of the conclave surprised me. It meant he was not a compromise candidate the cardinals turned to after voting stalled on front-runners, but the first choice of many going into the conclave.

    His simple lifestyle as archbishop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is well-known -- he doesn't live in a mansion but in a simple apartment, he doesn't have a driver but takes the bus, he even cooks his own meals.

    As a communicator, he's no superstar speech-giver, and we saw that in his low-key appearance on the balcony tonight. Look for him to communicate through gestures, prayers and decisions. Simplicity will be key. Some of his first decisions will be the most interesting: who he chooses as his top officials at the Vatican, and whether he moves toward some of the reforms called for by cardinals over the last few weeks.

    He'll also outline some of his plans, including travel plans, we assume. If he goes to Brazil for World Youth Day next July, don't be surprised to see him add a stop in Argentina.

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  • All eyes on the smokestack -- even Benedict's


         Another round of black smoke Wednesday

    After two rounds of black smoke, what does it mean?

    First, it’s no surprise. After a month of evaluating papal contenders, the common wisdom in Rome was that no one entered the conclave so heavily favored that he would sweep to a two-thirds majority in three ballots.

    Second, it sets the stage for the crucial two ballots on Wednesday afternoon. Here is where a leading vote-getter either puts distance between himself and the rest of the pack, or stalls short of the necessary 77 votes.

    White smoke this evening would lead many people to expect one of three men to appear at the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica: Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer or Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

    Another puff of black smoke would not remove these three contenders from papabile lists, but it would appear to indicate some reluctance among the cardinals in forming a consensus around any one of them.

    If Thursday does not produce a pope, the chance of a surprise is even greater.

    Pope Benedict watching

    The ex-Pope Benedict, like the rest of the world, is following the conclave proceedings from the outside. He watched TV coverage of the first black smoke last night, according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who had spoken with Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

    Benedict is at the papal villa at Castelgandolfo, 17 miles away from Rome. Vatican officials the retired pope won’t receive any special alert when a new pope is elected.

    Today the Vatican said the ex-pope was not expected to attend the inauguration Mass of the new pontiff. That seems to confirm the impression that Benedict really plans to be "invisible" to the world.

    Smoke signal recipe revealed

    Today, to the applause of reporters, the Vatican spokesman actually revealed the chemical composition of the canisters used to create the black and white smoke.

    The high-tech section of the two-part stove burns a “black” or “white” canister that fires five chemical doses over a seven-minute period.

    For black smoke the composition is potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulpher. The recipe for white smoke is potassium chlorate, lactose and rosin (a natural amber resin made from conifers.)

    So far the system has worked pretty well, better than other years. The black smoke last night looked like an inky eruption. The smoke at midday today was dark grey to black, certainly not white


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  • A "Hall of Humility" in the Vatican?


                      The "Donation of Charlemagne"

    As the cardinals walk toward the Sistine Chapel to vote for a new pope, they pass through the Sala Regia, literally the “royal room” where popes once received emperors, kings and princes.

    The room is one of the most ornate in the Vatican, and its art works illustrate the church’s temporal influence through the centuries. If the cardinals glance at the frescoes, they have to be thinking: How times have changed.

    The paintings celebrate the pope as a worldly power. Kings are depicted presenting territories to ruling pontiffs, while the “Donation of Charlemagne” commemorates the medieval gift that launched the papal states.

    Today, of course, the pope’s territorial holdings have shrunk to the 110-acre Vatican city state. His worldly power is limited to moral pronouncements that may, or may not, be taken to heart.

    And now we have a pope who has willingly set aside the office of the papacy – a gesture reflecting the human limitations on a pope, and the need to adapt this age-old institution to the demands of the modern world.

    I wonder if we’ll ever see a Vatican hallway decorated with less-than-triumphal scenes from the modern papacy. A pope who resigns. A pope who meets with sex abuse victims. A pope who apologizes to groups the church may have offended in the past.

    They could call it the “Hall of Humility.” It could be a project for the next pope.


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  • Conclave Day 1: Praying and politicking


       The dining room at the cardinals' Vatican residence

    People often imagine a conclave as a political convention in red robes, where cardinals may pray to the Holy Spirit but do their real business in back-room maneuvers.

    Judging from my conversations with cardinals over the last two weeks, the “campaigning” aspect of a conclave is exaggerated in popular imagination. But that doesn’t mean the cardinals don’t talk, lobby and carefully calculate the chances of their favorite candidate.

    From the moment it begins this evening, you could probably divide the conclave into “praying” and “politicking” moments.

    The praying takes place in the Sistine Chapel, where the voting procedure is so formal and so solemn that the cardinals don’t even talk to each other. There’s a reason the cardinals will file into the chapel in choir dress – they are, in a sense, participating in a liturgy.

    For that reason, there’s no chit-chat among the cardinal electors, and certainly no chance to ruminate on vote tallies.

    But that changes as soon as the cardinals exit the Sistine and get on the mini-buses to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, their residence inside Vatican City. They begin to talk, to reflect on the balloting and, yes, even to promote their candidates to brother cardinals.

    There’s a reason the conclave generally begins with a single ballot in an evening session. The first ballot, which may find 15 or more cardinals receiving votes, gives the lay of the land, and the cardinals have some numbers to work with as they head off to dinner.

    These meals at the Domus are extremely important. There’s no assigned seating, and for many cardinals it’s the first real chance they have to converse at length with prelates from other countries and regions. And once the dining room clears out, smaller and more private conversations continue into the night.

    The conclave rules are pretty adamant about what is and is not allowed in these conversations. What’s forbidden (under penalty of excommunication) is making any pact or promise that would oblige a cardinal to vote for a particular candidate – or deny his vote to a candidate. Also banned are any deals that would promise certain appointments or courses of action if a particular cardinal is elected pope.


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  • An Argentine cardinal who's quietly drawing attention - again


            Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio

    As we approach the start of Conclave 2013, it’s instructive to take a look back on Conclave 2005 – especially given the possibility that a protagonist of that election could return as a papabile this time around.

    The vote tallies in the 2005 conclave were leaked five months later in an anonymous cardinal’s diary, which formed the basis of an article published by the Italian journal Limes. The author, Lucio Brunelli, is a respected journalist who has covered the Vatican for decades, so his account – which has since been supported by others – deserves attention.

    According to the diary, Cardinal Ratzinger led off the first ballot by obtaining 47 votes. Behind him were Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio with 10 votes, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan with 9 votes and a handful of other candidates with lower numbers.

    Cardinal Bergoglio’s showing on the first ballot was a real surprise, and the next day his tally climbed to 35, compared to 65 for Cardinal Ratzinger. The third vote brought Cardinal Ratzinger to 72 (five shy of the needed two-thirds majority) and Cardinal Bergoglio to 40.

    The cardinals took their lunch break at this crucial point. It was clear that the next vote would either see the election of Cardinal Ratzinger or, if his support had peaked, mark a move toward another candidate – perhaps Cardinal Bergoglio.

    According to anonymous sources later cited by Italian journalists, Cardinal Bergoglio let it be known – more in gestures than in words – that he was not ready to accept the office of the papacy. They say this is one reason some of his early supporters voted for Cardinal Ratzinger on the fourth and final ballot that elected him Pope Benedict XVI.

    Others are adamant that Bergoglio never “refused” the possibility of election, and say he was simply humbled by the idea of becoming pope.

    Why is this important today?

    Because in the last few days, some serious voices have mentioned Cardinal Bergoglio as a contender in the coming conclave. Not simply because he came in second the last time around, but because he impressed cardinals when he took the floor in the pre-conclave meetings that began last week.

    His words left the impression that even at age 76, Bergoglio had the energy and the inclination to do some house-cleaning in the Roman Curia.  Read More...

  • In one Roman neighborhood, rooting for Cardinal O'Malley


      Cardinal O'Malley greeted by parishioners in Rome on Sunday

    If it were up to Maria Cherubino, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston would emerge from the coming conclave as the next pope.

    “He’s a spiritual figure, he’s fairly young and energetic, and he seems sure of himself. All that is important, because I think the church needs a great guide in this particular moment,” she said after attending Mass celebrated by Cardinal O’Malley in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

    A few pews away, Elisabetta Porco gave a similar endorsement.

    “There was just something about him I immediately liked when I saw him. Maybe being a friar is part of it, but I have the feeling he would be a different kind of pope,” she said.

    Her assessment appeared to be shared by the crowd of parishioners that packed into the small church, where O’Malley is the “titular” cardinal – every cardinal is given a titular church in Rome, and the Boston cardinal was lucky enough to get a historic one in the city center.

    Father Rocco Visca welcomed Cardinal O’Malley with a talk that stopped just short of being a campaign speech. He recalled telling a reporter about O’Malley’s qualities as a “lovable, humble but decisive” man, whose only “defect” was that he was a Capuchin friar – a remark made in jest, but reflecting the fact that it’s been ages since a member of a Franciscan order was elected pope.

    Father Visca said he knows that Cardinal O’Malley has called the prospect of his election to the throne of Peter “surreal” and even frightening, but he urged the cardinal to let himself be guided by "the design of the Holy Spirit.”

    “We hope this will be your last visit to our church as a titular cardinal. And if our prayers are answered, we hope your first visit as pontiff will be to our – and your – church, Santa Maria della Vittoria,” he added, to the delight of everyone in attendance.

    Well, almost everyone.

    A contrary voice from Boston

    Among those attending the Mass was Peter Borré, who heads the Council of Parishes in Boston, a group that has fought against O’Malley’s plans for parish closings. He said Boston has gone from 400 parishes 10 years ago to 280 parishes today, and if Cardinal O’Malley has his way, that will shrink to about 130 parish clusters in coming years.

    The way Borré sees it, “That’s purification with a vengeance.”

    “I think the fundamental policy choice is, do we continue one-third of a century of downsizing … with the idea of, let’s get to a base? Or do we restore the catholic small-c and reach out? O’Malley, for all his pastoral ways, has been on the leading edge of downsizing. That doesn’t work for me,” he said.

    Another reason Borré has trouble envisioning O’Malley as pope is his management style, at a time when many cardinals are calling for deep reform of the Roman Curia.


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  • The famous stove where ballots are burned


          Ballots are burned on the right, chemical canisters are burned on the left

    I was among the journalists who were given a guided visit to the Sistine Chapel this morning, where workmen were busy finishing the construction on the seating platform. The stove where ballots are burned is the same two-chamber unit that was used in 2005. One chamber burns the ballots, while in the other chemical canisters are loaded to make sure the black smoke (an inconclusive election) is really black, and the white smoke (Habemus Papam) is really white.

    Above the stove runs a copper smokestack to the roof of the Sistine, where it joins the exterior smokestack seen by the world.

    If history is any guide, despite the high-tech stove, people outside will argue whether the smoke is white or black.

    The Vatican spokesman said today that technicians would be testing the stove, but not actually emitting any smoke -- that would cause too much confusion and excitement in St. Peter's Square.

    He also said that, in the event of white smoke during the conclave, the big bell of St. Peter's Basilica would begin to toll. For details on how that worked out during the last conclave, see Chapter 1 of my book.  Read More...

  • A peek at conclave preparations inside the Sistine Chapel


       Workmen construct a ramp into the voting area of the Sistine Chapel

    Here's what's happening inside the Sistine Chapel, as workmen prepare for the start of the conclave March 12.                                                        Read More...

  • Conclave opens March 12 ... and then?

    We now know the starting date of the conclave: Tuesday, March 12. And we know that the cardinals will process into the Sistine Chapel in the afternoon, which leaves time for the first ballot that evening. If the balloting continues for three days without a new pope, the cardinals are to suspend the voting for a maximum of one day – for prayer, discussion and a spiritual pep talk.   Read More...

  • 'Party politics' and the coming conclave

    Covering the conclave would be a lot simpler for journalists if cardinals would just organize themselves into ecclesial “parties” and then vote the party line inside the Sistine Chapel.

    Naturally, it doesn’t work that way. In the 21st century, it’s hazardous to peg any cardinal to a voting bloc and delineate conclave caucuses. There are several reasons, but the biggest is that it presumes a level of organization among cardinals that usually isn’t there.

    That doesn’t stop intrepid reporters from trying, of course. For days we’ve been reading about the “Roman Party” in the conclave, which in theory includes many of the 41 Roman Curia cardinals (past or present) who will cast a vote, along with some of their 28 Italian confreres.

    In fact, this may be the most cohesive group in the College of Cardinals – and recent criticism of the Roman Curia’s performance has probably led them to close ranks. These cardinals, if they’re on the same page, may well be able to deliver 40 or more votes to a candidate on a first ballot, which could generate enough momentum to carry the day.

    The Roman Party is predominantly Italian, yet all indications are that these cardinals may throw support to a non-Italian who would have broader appeal – someone like Cardinal Odilo Scherer of Brazil or Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina. Both men were born in Latin America, yet are of European descent. Both have strong ties to the Vatican: Sandri has spent his whole career in the Roman Curia, and Scherer worked there for seven years.

    The expectation is that either cardinal, if elected, would bring in an Italian as secretary of state, thus maintaining the strong Italian influence in internal church affairs and in diplomatic dealings. (The name of Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, floated last week as a potential secretary of state, may have had a boomerang effect, however. Piacenza, head of the Congregation for Clergy, is considered very conservative to the point of being called a "closet Lefebvrist" by one informed Vatican observer.)

    Today, the Rome newspaper La Repubblica has identified what it calls the “Reform Party” among cardinal electors – the only group, we are told, that has the votes to stop the Romans. Their top papal candidates include Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, an Italian who is viewed as an outsider by the Curia, and U.S. Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley.

    The Reform Party also counts Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn among its ranks, a man who could have great influence in the voting and who could even emerge as pope.


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  • 'U.S. vs. the Curia' has become story line in Rome


      Cardinals meet daily in "general congregations"

    The College of Cardinals’ blanket ban on interviews with the press has returned the conclave narrative to its traditional padroni: Italian journalists and their Italian and Roman Curia sources.

    On a practical level, the move effectively muzzled U.S. cardinals and sent a signal that the Vatican’s communication culture remains one of back-channel sources, leaks and speculation -- not on-the-record press conferences.

    Not surprisingly, the Italian papers today – in particular, La Stampa – were chock full of unsourced details from the cardinals’ closed-door general congregation meetings. Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Italian head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, gave a global report on missionary challenges. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the Italian head of the Congregation for Clergy, weighed in with an overview on the priesthood and vocations.

    Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini spoke about the need to choose a younger pope with sufficient energy. Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, both Roman Curia officials, talked about the figure and role of “pope emeritus.” Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola went over the five-minute limit in his talk on the nature of the church.

    None of this is earth-shaking news. It’s just more than dribbles out of the official Vatican briefings, in which names are never named.

    More interesting is that the journalistic narrative is now pitting the reform-minded, exasperated U.S. cardinals against the entrenched Old Guard of the Roman Curia and Italian hierarchy.

    Here’s the way the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano set the scene: “The Vatican was not expecting the activism of the American cardinals: that they don’t want to hurry up the process at all cost, that they don’t want to avoid the subject of pedophilia, that they don’t want to skip over the intrigue of Vatileaks, that they don’t want to lock themselves into a conclave and make a mess of it.”

    “The reaction of the Curia officials, the cardinals who control the Holy See under the guidance of the chamberlain, Tarcisio Bertone, was not long in arriving: a ban on talking, no press conferences, we’re in charge.”

    From the people I’ve spoken with, there’s some truth to all this. There’s also a sense that the general congregations have been drifting along without much focus, that with speech after speech on such a variety of topics, they lack cohesion.

    That contrasts with the way the same meetings were chaired eight years ago by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who made a habit of tying themes together and synthesizing interventions at the end of the day.


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  • Gag order on the cardinals


      Cardinals DiNardo and O'Malley brief reporters

    I guess it was too good to continue.

    U.S. cardinals abruptly canceled their planned briefing today, and no further briefings were scheduled.

    Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who had coordinated the U.S. press encounters, said in an email: “Concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reportedin Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.”

    In other words, because some anonymous cardinals fed Italian reporters a few details about their discussions, a gag order now applies to all the cardinals.

    The U.S. briefings, which typically featured two American cardinals fielding questions in 30-minute sessions, had become a welcome daily ritual for journalists in Rome who are trying to cover the pre-conclave meetings that began this week.

    It should be noted that the U.S. cardinals, like all the rest, have taken an oath to maintain secrecy regarding conclave matters. But they have given reporters at least an outline of the discussions, if not precise content, and have been willing to answer general questions on issues not directly related to the conclave.

    It’s more than a little ironic that the Americans, who have been candid about the limits on what they could say even as they met the press, are now forced to retreat behind a wall of silence.


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  • A few modest proposals for the next pope


            Pope Benedict at his blessing last Easter

    Throughout my career, I've wisely refrained from giving advice to popes or the Vatican. I make an exception today, because in the wake of ex-Pope Benedict's resignation I'm hoping the cardinals give some creative thought to how a pope governs in the modern age.

    It's on the op-ed page of USA Today. I tried to keep it short: Seven Steps for a New Pope.


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  • Why the press is beating a path to U.S. cardinals


      Cardinal Francis George talks to reporters

    U.S. cardinals are getting rave reviews from journalists for their availability during the “general congregations” leading up to the conclave.

    In contrast to their brethren from the rest of the world, the Americans are holding well-organized daily press briefings at North American College, just up the hill from the Vatican press office.

    Chaired by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference, these sessions typically feature two U.S. cardinals who field questions for a half-hour. The relatively rapid-fire Q and A in English is a welcome complement to the lengthy, multi-lingual briefings offered by non-cardinals at the Vatican.

    One of Rome’s leading newspapers, Il Messaggero, said the American cardinals had clearly learned the value of transparency in dealing with the press.

    “It’s been the Americans who are giving lessons in communication and in conveying a unity of vision,” the newspaper said.

    “The Italians aren’t even thinking about this, maybe because they’re too divided and too resistant to new frontiers. They prefer to slip away, waving nervously and avoiding contact. The Germans, Spanish, French (with a few exceptions) and even the Latin Americans are doing the same,” the newspaper said.

    After today's briefing with Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, another session was announced for Wednesday featuring Cardinal George and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. A French reporter in the room was heard to exclaim: "God bless America!" (UPDATE: Now we're told it will be Cardinals George and McCarrick on Wednesday, not Dolan.)

    The U.S. cardinals are, of course, walking a fine line. Like other cardinals, they took an oath to preserve secrecy over all matters relating to the conclave.

    Nevertheless, there appears to be an understanding that cardinals can talk to the press throughout the pre-conclave meetings, as long as they don’t divulge too many details about the conclave itself. Since much of these discussion will relate to general church issues and not judgments on papabili, that leaves room for some freedom of expression.  Read More...

  • Roman Curia is early focus of cardinals' discussions


             Cardinals in the general congregation

    We learned today that the cardinals meeting ahead of the conclave focused this morning on three general topics: the Roman Curia and its relationship with bishops around the world, renewal in light of the Second Vatican Council and the demands of “new evangelization” in various cultural contexts.

    Although those are ambiguous phrases, they’re a clue to what’s on the cardinals’ minds. Clearly, governance of the Roman Curia has already been raised and will continue to be discussed, in light of various leaks and scandals that have come to light in recent years.

    Italian newspapers reported this morning that some cardinals, including Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, have asked for information from the three cardinals who prepared a report on the factors that led to the “Vatileaks” scandal. According to these reports, the answers given by the three cardinals were not very precise or helpful.

    Ex-Pope Benedict met with the three cardinals a few days before his resignation and declared that their report would remain secret for the time being, and left only for his successor to read. That may well explain their reluctance to share specific content from the report.

    At a press briefing today, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston was asked about Roman Curia issues.

    "There is certainly a lot of reflection going on throughout the Catholic world about the governance of the church, about how to improve it and make the Holy Father's ministry more effective and supported by the bureaucracy of the Holy See," he said.

    "Vatileaks grabbed headlines for a long time, but I don’t know how important those issues are in terms of the work of the conclave. I feel confident the cardinals will share with each other the information that is really germane and important for us to know as we try and make this important decision," he said.

    Afternoon sessions scrapped

    One somewhat surprising development came when cardinals decided not to meet twice daily, as had been expected, but to gather only in morning sessions – at least for the next few days.

    No explanation was given, but some cardinals felt the very structured sessions of the general congregations, if held twice a day, simply took up too much time and left little chance for the equally important informal meetings, conversations and dinners – which is where cardinals feel more free to talk about papal candidates.

    Meanwhile, the cardinals have scheduled an afternoon prayer session for Wednesday afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica. The cardinals and the public are invited.

    Sistine Chapel closed

    The Vatican is closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors as of this afternoon, a sure sign that a conclave is coming. Construction to host the structures needed in the conclave will begin today, too.

    Who will be the last cardinal to the conclave?

    Incredible as it may seem, more than three weeks after ex-Pope Benedict announced he would retire Feb. 28, there are still some cardinal no-shows in Rome.

    Their absence is delaying a vote on the starting date for the conclave, since the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, apparently believes that decision should be made once all voting-age cardinals have ample time to arrive.

    As of midday on March 5, the second day of the cardinals’ pre-conclave meetings, these cardinals were still reportedly making their way to Rome: Cardinals John Tong Hon of Hong Kong (who was said to be on a Lenten retreat), Coptic Cardinal Antonios Naguib of Egypt, German Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, and Polish Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz.

    Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi downplayed speculation about their absence, saying it was “completely normal” and that the Vatican was in contact with the missing cardinals. It seemed most, if not all, were expected in Rome by Wednesday.

    Telegram to Benedict

    The cardinals sent a telegram today to “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus,” thanking him for his “untiring work” as pope and assuring him of their prayers.


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  • U.S. cardinals reflect on first day of cardinals' meetings

    After participating in the first "general congregation" of cardinals to prepare for the conclave, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago made some interesting points in a briefing for reporters. First, he said, the cardinals are in no hurry to begin the conclave. “Someone quoted St.   Read More...

  • The cardinals open their 'general congregations'

    The College of Cardinals today kicked off the pre-conclave sessions known as “general congregations,” but have yet to set a date for the start of the conclave. One of their first decisions was to write a message to retired Pope Benedict. The text was being worked on, and presumably would have to be approved before it’s sent.   Read More...

  • A non-cardinal as pope?


                         Pope Urban VI

    My Italian colleague Gianfranco Brunelli, who directs the excellent Italian Catholic magazine Il Regno, suggested in an interview yesterday that cardinal electors should take advantage of a little-known clause in canon law and consider electing a non-cardinal in the coming conclave.

    It’s a suggestion that has circulated quietly in Rome since Benedict XVI announced his retirement. Most observers discount the idea, but technically it’s a possibility.

    Church law says a person elected to the papacy should either be a bishop or must be immediately ordained a bishop. Canon lawyers debate how wide a field that wording could create, but it’s clear that the next pope doesn’t have to be a cardinal.

    Nor does he have to be under the age of 80 – which is a requirement to vote in the conclave.

    Brunelli said the cardinals should, in fact, consider choosing a bishop as pope. He says it would be “an act of freedom, strength and courage” in the wake of the ex-pope’s courageous decision to resign. The cardinals would not be saying there aren’t enough good candidates in the room, but recognizing “the experiences of deep renewal and pastoral energy present in the local churches,” he said.

    “It would be a statement that, even today, the Catholic Church has pastoral figures who are prophetic,” Brunelli said.

    If would also expand the number of potential candidates tremendously. The church has more than 5,000 bishops; it has only 117 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave.

    That’s probably the biggest argument against choosing a non-cardinal. Just getting to know their fellow cardinals well enough to make a choice is considered a daunting task for those who will cast votes in the conclave. Serious consideration of an outside candidate would require time to mature – and many of the cardinals seem in a hurry to wrap this up.

    The last time a non-cardinal was elected pope was in 1378, when Italian Archbishop Bartolomeo Prignano became Pope Urban VI. In part because of the outside political pressures of that time, his 11-year reign was fairly disastrous, leading to the Great Western Schism.


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  • A Canadian brings some English to the press office


           Father Tom Rosica talks with Vatican reporters

    In these pre-conclave days of more questions than answers, a welcome addition to the Vatican press office has been Father Tom Rosica, a media-savvy Canadian who’s been giving English-language (and some French-language) briefings.

    Father Rosica, a member of the Basilian religious order who runs the Salt + Light Television network (an excellent resource for the papal transition), knows what journalists need from the Vatican and has been doing his best to deliver it: clear, succinct information in several languages.

    Rosica has been taking his cues from Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who also brought in a Spanish-speaking priest for the papal transition.

    Things should get more interesting next week when the briefers will be asked about the cardinals’ twice-daily meetings in the run-up to the conclave. During synods of bishops, briefing officers in various languages have some leeway in how much information they can provide. We’ll see if that’s also true when the cardinals hold their discussions.


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  • Networks claim prime roofscape territory


      A TV set perched above the Augustinian college

    The roofscape around St. Peter’s Square has been sprouting TV platforms like mushrooms after a rainstorm.

    The idea is to give cameras an unimpeded view of the Vatican and, above all, the Sistine Chapel smokestack, to the right of St. Peter’s dome.

    The networks learned the last time around that these rooftops and terraces quickly become prime real estate in Rome, so most have had contracts signed well in advance.

    Their hosts are often religious orders, which gain much-needed income (enough to pay the utility bills for years, one would guess) but have to put up with hundreds of TV people traipsing through the premises.

    One problem for the networks is that a clear view from one rooftop may quite suddenly be obscured by a new TV studio on a nearby building. So far, there have been squabbles but no wars.

    Many of these TV sets are perched above sets of steep, winding stairs. The other day I followed a cardinal up to one of these aeries and had to admire his climbing skills.


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  • The conclave's missing dimension


       Cardinal Angelo Scola among faithful in Italy

    It can’t be easy to cast that first ballot in a conclave, and by all accounts cardinals in Rome are showing due diligence as they research papal candidates.

    They rely, first of all, on the impressions formed in personal encounters they may have had with the men considered papabili. Then they consider past events – mostly in Rome – where leading cardinals have spoken or somehow weighed in over the years.

    And, as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said this week, they are “using the Internet a lot.” Yes, cardinals are Googling each other, and could it really be otherwise in this day and age?

    But there’s an aspect that’s often missing from this rapid round of vetting and appraisal, one that should be crucial to the choice of the next pope: the pastoral dimension.

    For all their research and discussion, cardinals have a very hard time gauging how a papabile gets along in his home diocese -- how successful he’s been in energizing the church at the local level, how many bridges he’s been able to build with the larger society and how effective he is when interacting with his own faithful.

    That’s a pretty big blind spot when it comes to choosing a pope, especially when a perennial requisite is that the next pontiff be a “pastoral” figure.


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  • Update on secrecy, cardinals summoned to Rome


              Journalists at today's Vatican briefing

    It looks like next Monday is going to mark a showdown on the transparency issue in the run-up to the conclave.

    That's the day cardinals begin their twice-daily "general congregations," meetings that will provide a forum for discussion of church priorities and offer cardinals a chance to size up potential papal candidates.

    It's also the day of the first scheduled briefing on the general congregations, for the hundreds of reporters who are in Rome for the papal transition. The type of information provided to journalists on Monday will probably set the tone for coming days.

    Sources today said Vatican communications officials expect to furnish at least generic summaries of the main themes covered in the cardinals' conversations -- but without naming names. In other words, we may be told, for example, that the subject of the church's relations with Islam drew some strong proposals, but we won't be told who made them.

    Likewise, the cardinals are expected to be told by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to be very careful in talking with reporters and others about the content of their meetings, and to avoid identifying individual speakers. This would, of course, make it more difficult to identify protagonists (and potential candidates).

    If history is any guide, U.S. cardinals will probably follow the rules to the letter, while others -- particularly Italians -- may take a more flexible approach.


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  • The pope's heartfelt goodbye -- and a nod to the Curia


      More than 100,000 came for the pope's farewell

    Those waiting for Pope Benedict to open his heart on the question of his resignation were not disappointed today.

    In his final general audience, the day before he abdicates the papal throne, the pope spoke in an unusually personal way about his decision and offered a frank assessment of his pontificate – both the moments of joy and moments of “rough waters.”

    His words appeared designed to counter the popular media image of a discouraged and defeated pope who felt let down by the top officials of the Roman Curia.

    He went out of his way, in fact, to thank the Curia, in particular the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has been seen by many observers as a big part of the problem when it comes to Curia tensions and infighting.

    Benedict also expressed gratitude to the many Vatican employees who “remain in the shadows, but who precisely in their silence and daily dedication … have been for me a sure and trusted support.”

    Speaking to an overflow and enthusiastic crowd in St. Peter’s Square, the pope took issue with what has become a dominant narrative in the media: that of a pontiff so frustrated with the problems of church governance and ill-served by his aides that he felt constrained to leave the scene.


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  • "His Holiness Benedict XVI, pope emeritus"


      Pope Benedict will trade in his famous red shoes

    The Vatican today answered some of the nagging questions hanging over the papal resignation, including the title Pope Benedict will carry after he leaves office.

    “His Holiness Benedict XVI, pope emeritus” or “Roman pontiff emeritus” is the proper way to address the retired pope, the Jesuit spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters.

    On a practical level, it’s an issue that few people are expected to face, since the pope has said he plans to live behind the Vatican walls and avoid public appearances.

    Father Lombardi said the pope would wear a “simple white cassock” after retiring. His famous red shoes will be set aside in favor of a pair of brown shoes he was given last year in Leon, Mexico – a city known for its footwear industry.

    As expected, Benedict’s fisherman ring and the seal of his pontificate will be destroyed; how and when will be determined by the College of Cardinals.


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  • A step toward transparency

    Good news today from the Vatican press office: the powers-that-be have decided to brief reporters during the cardinals' daily pre-conclave meetings, which will probably begin March 4. As I argued in my post yesterday (below), a news blackout on the cardinals' meetings, called "general congregations," would have simply fed the spiraling journalistic speculation about the coming conclave. The conclave remains a secret process, of course, but there was room for flexibility in the run-up meetings, w...  Read More...

  • Scottish cardinal resigns in wake of allegations of sexual impropriety

    UPDATE: In the wake of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior, Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned today as archbishop Edinburgh, and said he does not plan to come to Rome for the March conclave to avoid creating a media diversion during the election of a new pope. The Vatican said yesterday that Pope Benedict has been informed about allegations that the cardinal had engaged in inappropriate sexual acts, and was deciding what to do about it. The allegations, which date to the 1980s, c...  Read More...

  • From Germany with love


       Germans were among those saying goodbye to the pope

    Among the more than 100,000 people who filled St. Peter's Square to say goodbye to Pope Benedict today were pilgrims from Germany, including these two women who flew down to Rome for the day with a homemade banner reading: "Holy Father, we love you."

    Birgit Marschall, a 49-year-old Catholic, said she made the banner as a token of appreciation.

    "I just want to say goodbye and thank him, and assure him of our prayers. I'm thankful for every word he gave us," she said. She arrived in the square early and unfurled her banner right below the pope's window.

    Speaking in German at his noon blessing, the pope seemed to be on the same wavelength. "I thank you all for the signs of closeness and affection, and especially for your prayers," he said.

    Appearing at his final Sunday blessing, Pope Benedict referred indirectly to his retirement Feb. 28 and said he felt God was summoning him to a different kind of service in the church.

    "God is calling me to `climb the mountain' and dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this doesn't mean abandoning the church. On the contrary, if God is asking this of me it's precisely because I can continue to serve the church with the same dedication and love as always, but in a way more fitting to my age and my energy," he said.


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  • Tears and whispers


                  Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle

    Is crying in public a deal-breaker for a papabile?

    It’s enough of an issue that veteran Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa mentioned it in an article about the whispering campaigns aimed at torpedoing a candidate’s chances in the next conclave.

    He listed Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn as two papabili who have teared up in front of reporters from time to time.

    But perhaps the most televised tears by a papal candidate were shed by Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle when he received his red hat from Pope Benedict last November.

    Asked about it at the time, Tagle said candidly, “I cry easily.”

    In an interview yesterday with the Rome daily La Repubblica, Tagle recalled the episode and said he had personally apologized to Pope Benedict the day after his display of emotions.

    “Pope Benedict answered with some significant words: ‘No, you don’t need to apologize. We need heart in the church!” the 55-year-old cardinal said.

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  • The Vatican fires back at journalists


                       Father Federico Lombardi

    In the wake of Italian press reports about Roman Curia score-settling, financial feuds and a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican, the Vatican opened fire on the media today.

    A statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State, read to reporters by spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, said much of the pre-conclave coverage was “completely false” and appeared designed to influence the outcome of the papal election.

    “If in the past, the so-called powers, that is states, exerted pressures on the election of the pope, today there is an attempt to do this in the public opinion, often based on judgments that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment the church is living,” the statement said.

    “It is deplorable that as we draw nearer to the beginning of the conclave, and the cardinal electors will he held, in conscience and before God, to express their choice, that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, or unverifiable, or completely false news stories, that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

    Italian reporting since Pope Benedict announced his resignation has been marked by a rash of conspiracy theories and speculation about “hidden” motives for the pope’s decision, almost all of it unsourced.

    This week, the Rome newspaper La Repubblica ran a series of articles alleging that a secret report by three elderly cardinals, commissioned by the pope last year, included revelations of sexual impropriety among Vatican officials and the existence of a "gay lobby" that wields undue influence inside the Vatican. The newspaper suggested the cardinals' report was a key reason the pope decided to resign.


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  • Cardinal O'Brien's salvo on celibacy

    Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien has raised the possibility of a change in the priestly celibacy rule, saying many priests struggle because they are unable to marry and unable to have children. In an interview with the BBC, O'Brien said that while he had never considered marriage, "I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married." He noted that some branches of the Catholic Church already allowed married clergy. "It is a free worl...  Read More...

  • A 'young' pope?

    One of the generally accepted assumptions about the next conclave is that cardinals will be looking for a relatively young and energetic candidate. So it’s worth examining what passes for “young” in the College of Cardinals. The average age of the world’s 209 cardinals is 78.   Read More...

  • Cardinal Mahony: The conclave's lightning rod

    What’s being called the “Mahony affair” has taken center stage in Italian press coverage of the upcoming conclave, with expressions of outrage that the Los Angeles cardinal accused of covering up sex abuse by priests would come to Rome for the papal election. Cardinal Roger Mahony announced through his blog that he intends to participate in the conclave, just a few weeks after he was removed from “administrative or public duties" as retired archbishop of Los Angeles because of past failures to p...  Read More...