US cardinals told to cancel media briefing
Cardinal Seán Brady arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican yesterday. photograph: tony gentile/reuters
Those who would argue that the Holy See likes to direct the narrative of all Vatican events seemed to be offered proof yesterday when the US cardinals, here to elect a successor to Benedict XVI – Roman pontiff emeritus – were effectively told to shut up.
A scheduled press conference, originally intended to feature two of the heaviest hitters in the US hierarchy, cardinals Tim Dolan of New York and Francis George of Chicago, was called off at short notice. The spokeswoman for the cardinals, Sr Mary Ann Walsh, said the briefing had been cancelled over concerns by other cardinals “about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers”. As a precaution, she added, all interviews had been cancelled.
Given past form, the press leaks in question, most regularly to Italian media organisations, will continue to find their way into print during these key days of pre-conclave congregations. Many observers suggested the cardinals’ decision to cancel any further news conferences was the result of an implicit “gagging” order rather than of any concern about leaks.
One unusual aspect of this pre-conclave time so far has been the regular briefings offered by the US cardinals, who have given the impression of being an open, organised lobby.
In contrast, no other bishops’ conference has organised briefings with its cardinals, whose public utterances tend to be confided only to individual, trusted journalists.
Senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi yesterday, however, denied that the cardinals had been “silenced”, arguing rather that they were called on to swear secrecy before they take part in the congregazioni, adding: “The college as a whole has decided to maintain a line of an increasing reserve . . . at this important moment.”
Sr Walsh denied the cardinals had been rapped over the knuckles, suggesting instead that it was a case of “someone talks and everybody stays after school”. Nonetheless, it was difficult not to conclude that the Holy See is very keen to control this particular conclave narrative.
As for the conclave itself, there may well be a decision about its timing today given that, by this afternoon, all 115 elector cardinals will be in Rome. The apostolic constitution rules that a decision about the date of the conclave can only be taken when all the electors are present. At this point, an anticipated conclave can no longer be guaranteed since several cardinals have informally expressed their desire to stick to the original date of March 15th.