• John Thavis

Gag order on the cardinals

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.

The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, who holds his own briefings each day (and like U.S. cardinals, provides general and practical information without getting into the substance of the cardinals’ meetings), was asked if the Vatican had intervened to put an end to the American press encounters.

He said it was not up to him to tell cardinals what they can and cannot say to the press. But he added that the conclave was not a congress or a synod, in which abundant information is given. On the contrary, he said, this process has “a tradition of confidentiality in order to protect the freedom of members of the college.”

Therefore, he said he was not surprised that the rest of the cardinals may have reacted to the U.S. availability to the press – especially as the cardinals deepened their discussions this week. He noted that no other national group had decided to give the kind of briefings as the Americans were doing.

Father Lombardi said that to date, 51 cardinals had spoken in the general congregations, touching on the following main topics: the church and the world, “new evangelization,” the Holy See and Roman Curia departments and relations with bishops.

What’s also beginning to emerge, he said, was a profile of the qualities and tasks for the next pope.

Those wanting more information, I guess, should read the Italian papers and try to sift the speculation from the good stuff. Today’s Italian take: the cardinals are fighting about the start date of the conclave – which still has to be decided; the Roman Curia is under attack from many cardinals, who are asking for deep reforms; several cardinals are upset at the paltry information they’re being given by three cardinals who authored a confidential report on Vatican leaks and corruption.

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