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  • John Thavis

Update on secrecy, cardinals summoned to Rome

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.

All the cardinals are free to speak in the general congregations, including those over the age of 80. There are 207 cardinals in all, 117 of voting age.

Sodano summons the cardinals

The Vatican released the letter send out today by Cardinal Sodano, summoning the cardinals to Rome for the general congregations and the conclave.

From the wording of the letter, it seems Cardinal Sodano is willing to wait until all voting-age cardinals are present or accounted for before deciding a date for the start of the conclave. That could mean it will be several more days before we know when the actual voting begins, not necessarily on Monday.

We were assured that in addition to snail mail, the letter was also faxed and emailed to cardinals.

The pope’s first night as ’emeritus’

Although reporters weren’t really expecting it, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi briefed them today on what Benedict did in the hours following his abdication last night. For one thing, the ex-pope sat down with his secretary to watch TV news reports on his resignation — and apparently they were both pleased at the depth of coverage. Lombardi, in fact, thanked journalists for the generally excellent presentation of what he called an “intense and emotional” event.

The retired pope took a walk through ceremonial rooms of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, where he’s living for a couple of months before moving into a monastery inside the Vatican. According to his secretary, Benedict slept well and celebrated Mass this morning.

Benedict was expected to spend some time each day praying his breviary, walking in the gardens of the villa, playing the piano and reading. He brought a number of theology and history books with him, in particular a volume titled, “Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics” (typical light reading for Benedict.) He was also taking time to read the many messages he’s received from people all over the world.

What’s unusual here is that the spokesman is continuing to give information about the ex-pope, even though Benedict has entered what he has called a “hidden” life. It will be interesting to see whether news about Benedict will slowly fade from these briefings.

World premiere – sealing the papal apartments

The Vatican today showed reporters a four-minute film showing how the papal chamberlain, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sealed the papal apartment following the pope’s resignation. Carrying a “ferula,” a scepter symbolizing his limited authority during the interregnum, Bertone taped shut the private elevator door leading to the papal quarters and then stamped a “sede vacante” seal with a little machine.

To tell the truth, the tape looked like glorified masking tape, and the scene drew laughs in the Vatican press office.

At the main apartment door, Bertone locked it, wrapped a long red ribbon through the handles and then used a hot-wax gun to mark it with the seal.

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