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Benedict pledges ‘unconditional obedience’ to next pope

A few hours before his resignation, Pope Benedict sought to reassure cardinals and the rest of the church on two important points. First, he said that the church is a “living reality” that can transform itself and adapt to modern times without changing its fundamental identity, which is found in Christ. The message here was that while papal resignation marks a shift in the office of the papacy, it does not mark a break with the church’s core mission and values. Second, Benedict, in the clearest words possible, pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to the next pope. Although no one expects Benedict to interfere in any way with the ministry of his successor, this was a line that

The pope’s heartfelt goodbye — and a nod to the Curia

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

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, when the cardinals will discuss priorities, directions and challenges for the church. The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters today that journalists would be briefed not only on

"His Holiness Benedict XVI, pope emeritus"

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,

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, came to light in newspaper reports today in Great Britain. Cardinal O’Brien was among the cardinals expected to arrive in Rome at the end of next week for Pope Benedict’s resignation and an upcoming co

Conclave secrecy: A two-edged sword

Conclave secrecy cuts both ways. It guarantees that cardinals will have the absolute privacy needed to select a new pope without outside pressure. But it also creates a news vacuum that journalists are happy to fill with speculation, scenarios and outright fantasy. As the world prepares for Pope Benedict’s resignation, there are signs that some at the Vatican are trying to lift the veil of secrecy that has covered some of the proceedings – not the actual vote inside the Sistine Chapel, but the daily meetings cardinals will have in the days leading up to the balloting. In the past, these pre-conclave meetings, called “general congregations,” have sometimes been subject to the secrecy rule, to

From Germany with love

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 affecti

Tears and whispers

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 , Tagle r

The Vatican fires back at journalists

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 sa

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 world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and

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. Among the 117 cardinals who are under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave, the average age is nearly 72; almost two-thirds of the electors are over age 70. I decided to make an unscientific tally of the 15 most-mentioned papabili in recent days, and found their average age to be 67. Only one is under age 60 — Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle. Clearly, if the cardinals are looking for someone in the youthfu

A resource for the conclave

As pope-watchers prepare for the approaching conclave, here’s a great resource written by one of Rome’s true experts on the subject. “Conclave: Step by Step Through the Papal Interregnum” was recently revised by Monsignor Charles Burns, a Scottish historian who once worked in the Vatican Archives. It can be downloaded for free here from the Catholic Truth Society. Monsignor Burns reviews the rules and seasons the text with his own insights. I love the part where he talks about the possibility of electing someone outside the College of Cardinals and adds: “Beware! The last time a non-Cardinal was elected, in 1378, it caused the Great Western Schism, which divided Christendom into rival factio

The ‘Pope of Italy’?

Pope Benedict’s Feb. 11 announcement that he would resign at the end of the month left him two and a half weeks to say goodbye to the church and the world, and to wrap up pending projects of his pontificate. It’s been a little surprising, then, to see Benedict’s calendar fill up primarily with encounters with groups and individuals from a single country: Italy. A meeting with the clergy of Rome. Individual “ad limina” audiences with bishops of Liguria. An encounter with an Italian charity organization. A private meeting with Italy’s outgoing prime minister, Mario Monti. Another round of “ad limina” meetings, this time with bishops of the Lombard region. The pope’s last scheduled meeting with

Early start to conclave may get papal clarification

Pope Benedict is studying the possibility of issuing a document that would clarify certain issues being raised about the coming conclave, including the possibility of an early start to the papal election. The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said today that if the document is issued, it would come before the papal resignation takes effect Feb. 28. Lombardi said he thought the document might address certain ritual questions. He said he didn’t know if the pope would say anything about the starting date of the conclave, but the spokesman left the impression that the pope was aware of the timing issue. The Vatican rules say that in preparing for a conclave, the cardinals “must wait f

Lots of noise, few signals in early run-up to conclave

Last year, Nate Silver’s book, “The Signal and the Noise,” argued against over-emphasizing random fluctuations in forecasting outcomes like the U.S. presidential race. Papal elections are not presidential elections, of course, but it’s clear that in the run-up to the March conclave we are hearing a lot of noise. It’s a very specific kind of noise — the chatter of what might be called “the conclave of the media.” As papabili buzz on and off the nightly news and “contenders” lists pop up on Web sites, it’s good to remember that most of the voting cardinals have yet to arrive in Rome and few, if any, are talking names with reporters. That creates a vacuum, and journalists have been happy to fil

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 protect children from clergy sex abuse. After a U.S. Catholic lay group urged Mahony to stay home, the popular Italian weekly “Famiglia Cristiana” on Feb. 18 asked online readers whether the cardinal s

The conclave’s ‘geography gap’

The Catholic Church is not a democracy. Cardinals do not have geographical constituencies. And a conclave is not a political convention. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s acknowledge the deep geographical imbalances in the conclave that will elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor. There are 117 cardinals eligible to vote, and it is a group dominated by Europeans and North Americans. Consider these numbers: — A full 52 percent of the voting-age cardinals are European, despite the fact that Europe today is home to just 24 percent of the church’s total population, and is the only continent where the actual number of Catholics is in decline. — Italy alone has 28 voting cardinals in the

The papal butler’s “vow of silence”?

Last Christmas, Pope Benedict pardoned Paolo Gabriele, his former valet who was tried and convicted for leaking confidential documents to the press. The pope’s move seemed like the classic Vatican happy ending to the Vatileaks affair, an act of forgiveness that transcended the revelations of petty conflict in the Roman Curia. There’s a postscript, however, and it raises some familiar questions about transparency and secrecy at the Vatican. The Italian magazine Panorama reported earlier this month that when the Vatican assigned Gabriele to a position at the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Hospital, it was on the condition that he refrain from talking to the press. The magazine said Gabriele signed

Decoding the Vatican — a new blog

Inaugurating a blog is a little like launching an empty cruise ship, in the hope that passengers will be stepping on board with every post. This blog will offer commentary, news and insights on Vatican and Catholic Church affairs. It’s a different format for me, and an exciting one. For nearly 30 years, I covered the Vatican for Catholic News Service in Rome, writing thousands of news stories and many analytical pieces, trying never to stray outside the margins of journalistic objectivity. Bloggers have more freedom — freedom to make judgments, raise questions, express opinions, link to other points of view and engage in discussion. In short, to make some waves. I welcome the opportunity to

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