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  • John Thavis

Roman Curia is early focus of cardinals’ discussions

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. All 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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