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  • John Thavis

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

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.

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