Cardinals Go Silent as Vatican Debate on Conclave Heats Up

Roman Catholic cardinals are going silent as divisions open up in their debate about when to start the secret Vatican conclave to pick a successor to retired Pope Benedict XVI.

American cardinals taking part in the pre-conclave talks at the Vatican canceled a scheduled press briefing yesterday in Rome following “leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops’ conference, said in an e-mailed statement.

While “the U.S. cardinals are committed to transparency and have been pleased” to engage the media in Rome this week, the church’s 207-strong College of Cardinals “agreed not to give interviews” after the leaks, she said. The Vatican denied exerting any pressure on the cardinals, who vow to keep secret all details of the talks known as the general congregations.

Cardinals from around the world gathered for a fourth day to discuss challenges facing the church, size up possible papal candidates and set a date for the conclave. While the Vatican has said a pope should be in place by Easter on March 31, cardinals from more than 50 countries and six continents have yet to hold a vote on when to enter the Sistine Chapel to pick a new pontiff.

No Date

In their morning meeting, the cardinals continued their talks without setting a date for the conclave, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said at a press conference in Rome today. The cardinals received a brief report on Vatican finances, Lombardi said, without giving more details.

Cardinals from the U.S. and Germany, keen on reforming the papal bureaucracy known as the Curia, want more time to get to know one another and reflect before the conclave is called, Italian newspapers reported yesterday. “This conclave must be prepared carefully,” German Cardinal Walter Kasper said in an interview with La Repubblica.

Italian prelates, many of them Curia veterans, are in turn seen as pushing for faster proceedings in a bid to ram through their preferred candidate, according to John Allen Jr., a Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter.

‘First-World Bloc’

“Under the logic of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ today’s development may make some cardinal electors from other parts of the world more favorably inclined to the Americans,” Allen said in his blog yesterday. “They may look less like part of a ‘First-World’ bloc, and more like fellow outsiders frustrated with business as usual.”

The lack of a conclave date simply reflected “a process of discernment and reflection” among the cardinals, according to Rev. Thomas Rosica, who provided the English translation at Lombardi’s briefing yesterday.

Some prelates including U.S. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo have said they’d like to have a new pope elected by Holy Week, which starts on Palm Sunday on March 24. In a possible sign the Vatican expects such a scenario, the temporary press passes issued this week to cover the conclave expire on March 23.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana remains the favorite to become the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, with 11-to-4 odds to take over after Benedict’s Feb. 28 abdication, according to betting company Paddy Power Plc. Italians Angelo Scola and Tarcisio Bertone followed on odds of 3-to-1 and 7-to-2, respectively.

A total of 152 cardinals, known as “princes of the church” attended today’s meeting, 114 of them papal electors under age 80, Lombardi said. The final voting Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man from Vietnam is due to arrive today and will join the congregation either for the afternoon session or tomorrow morning, Lombardi said.

The field of papal contenders is “getting wider, rather than narrower,” U.S. Cardinal Francis George said in an interview posted on La Stampa’s website yesterday. “The names you have seen in the papers make sense, but we are also talking about candidates that nobody has talked about until now.”