otting down media notes regarding the upcoming conclave, now that the process is really getting underway. Cardinals begin pre-conclave meetings at VaticanCardinals meet; Vatican gives no comment on Scottish scandalCardinals begin pre-conclave meetings amid scandalCardinals begin pre-conclave meetings at Vatican
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The College of Cardinals began their formal pre-conclave meetings March 4 with 142 members present, 103 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to enter the conclave to vote for a new pope.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the cardinals did not set a date for the conclave to begin and were unlikely to set a date until the 115 cardinal-electors expected were all present and until the cardinals felt confident they knew how much time they wanted for discussions beforehand.
One of the first decisions made by the cardinals was to authorize the drafting of a message to Pope Benedict XVI, Father Lombardi said. He did not know when the text would be completed and approved.
The cardinals also voted to listen that evening to Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, give the first of two meditations required by church law before a conclave.
The rules for electing a pope require the cardinals to choose two churchmen, "known for their sound doctrine, wisdom and moral authority" to present meditations "on the problems facing the church at the time and on the need for careful discernment in choosing the new pope."
Father Cantalamessa also gave the first meditation in 2005 after the death of Blessed John Paul II.
After praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit, the cardinals and those assisting them at the meetings took an oath of secrecy. During the pre-conclave meetings, known as general congregations, the cardinals have the services of translators working in Italian, Spanish, English, French and German, as well as ushers and other aides.
Father Lombardi also was among those who took the oath; he is authorized to give reporters only certain general information about the meetings. For example, he said, 13 cardinals spoke during a 45-minute discussion about how often the general congregation should meet and how the sessions should be organized, but he could not say who the cardinals were or what they suggested.
The cardinals also drew lots to determine the three cardinals who will serve three-day terms as members of the "particular congregations" to deal with ordinary matters in the governance of the church during the period without a pope. Serious matters must be brought to the general congregation.
The three cardinals chosen March 4 were Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, former prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples; and Cardinal Franc Rode, former prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Each of the cardinals has been given a small prayer booklet, the rules for governing the church during the period without a pope and for electing a new pope, a list of all the cardinals and the official prayer book for the conclave.
The cardinals had a half-hour coffee break, the spokesman said, and used the time to meet cardinals they didn't know and to greet old friends.
Father Lombardi said only two cardinals -- Indonesian Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja, the 78-year-old retired archbishop of Jakarta, and Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, 74, who retired as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh after being accused of sexual misconduct -- have formally informed the Vatican that they will not attend the conclave.
The cardinal-electors missing from the first congregation, he said, were Cardinals Antonios Naguib, former Coptic Catholic patriarch; Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch; Joachim Meisner of Cologne, Germany; Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid; Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Germany; Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Dakar, Senegal; Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, Poland; Dominik Duka of Prague, Czech Republic; Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin; and John Tong Hon of Hong Kong.Cardinals meet; Vatican gives no comment on Scottish scandal
Joshua J. McElwee | Mar. 4, 2013 NCR Today
ROME The Vatican announced Monday that 142 cardinals were present for the first meeting of the college of cardinals following the Thursday resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
The meeting of cardinals was the first of several expected this week before the cardinals enter the secret meeting where they will elect the now-retired pope's successor, who will lead the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church.
Throughout the morning, journalists and tourists in Rome had gathered outside the Paul VI Hall, where the cardinals are meeting in General Congregation, to watch the prelates come and go.
As the cardinals walked in, some stopped to say a word or two, but most kept quiet. Each cardinal carried a small black briefcase emblazoned with a golden seal of the special sede vacante period and the year 2013.
The meeting this morning, said Vatican spokesperson Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, began with several prayers, including the "Veni Sanctus Spiritus." Each of the cardinals then took an oath on the Bible to keep the contents of the meetings secret at pain of excommunication.
Three cardinals -- Giovanni Battista Re, Crescenzio Sepe and Franc Rode -- were chosen by lot to help assist in the general functioning of the church in the time before the election of the new pope.
Together, the cardinals also decided to write a letter to now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who is living at Castel Gandolfo during the conclave process.
The meeting, said Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, was "extremely cordial, warm, [and] fraternal." The cardinals, he said, have "deep concern for the needs of the church throughout the world."
The cardinals are expected to meet again Monday afternoon. They are to partake in a spiritual meditation led by Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who has served as the preacher of the papal household since 1980.
In 2006, Cantalamessa gained attention when he asked then-Pope Benedict to consider declaring a day of fasting and penitence for the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
Vatican spokespersons were asked several times during Monday's briefing to elaborate on the Vatican's response to Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who said on Sunday he had had improper sexual contact with priests.
One Scottish reporter said the Scottish "are not very happy" with the explanation of O'Brien's resignation, asking what additional disciplinary action might be taken by the Vatican.
In response, Rosica read aloud from O'Brien's statement Sunday, adding, "That's all we can say. That's what's been said."Cardinals begin pre-conclave meetings amid scandal
Mar 4, 2:19 PM (ET)
By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Cardinals said Monday they want to talk to Vatican managers about allegations of corruption and cronyism within the top levels of the Catholic Church before they elect the next pope, evidence that a scandal over leaked papal documents is setting up one of the most unpredictable papal elections in recent times.
The Vatican said 103 of the 115 voting-age cardinals attended Monday's inaugural session of the pre-conclave meetings, at which cardinals organize the election process, discuss the problems of the church and get to know one another before voting.
The red-capped "princes" of the church took an oath of secrecy and decided to pen a letter of "greeting and gratitude" to Benedict XVI, whose resignation has thrown the church into turmoil amid a torrent of scandals inside and out of the Vatican.
"I would imagine that as we move along there will be questioning of cardinals involved in the governing of the Curia to see what they think has to be changed, and in that context anything can come up," said U.S. Cardinal Francis George.
The Vatican's administrative shortcomings were thrust into stark relief last year with the publication of documents stolen from Benedict XVI's desk that exposed the petty infighting, turf battles and allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church.
The pope's butler was convicted of stealing the papers and leaking them to a journalist; he eventually received a papal pardon.
The emeritus pope, meanwhile, remained holed up at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home while the discussions on picking his successor kick into gear in Rome.
No date has been set yet for the conclave and one may not be decided on officially for a few more days; the dean of the College of Cardinals has said a date won't be finalized until all the cardinals have arrived.
Twelve more voting-age cardinals were en route to Rome; some had previously scheduled speaking engagements, others were due in later Monday or in the coming days, the Vatican said. Their absence, however, didn't otherwise delay the conclave's preparations.
Speculation has mounted that the conclave might begin around March 11, with the aim of having a new pope installed by March 17, the Sunday before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week.
With 115 electors, 77 votes are needed to reach the two-thirds majority to be elected pope.
Those who were in Rome prayed together Monday, chatted over coffee and took an oath to maintain "rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff."
The core agenda item is to set the date for the conclave and put in place the procedures to prepare for it, including closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors and getting the Vatican hotel cleared out and swept for bugs or other electronic monitoring devices, lest anyone try to listen in on the cardinals' secret conversations.
Yet the first day of discussion was rocked by new revelations of scandal after Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien admitted that his "sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."
O'Brien last week resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and said he wouldn't participate in the conclave after four men came forward with allegations that he had acted inappropriately with them - the first time a cardinal has stayed away from a conclave because of personal scandal.
The Vatican on Monday refused to confirm whether it was investigating O'Brien, even though the Scottish church's press office said the allegations had been forwarded to the Vatican and that it expected Rome would pursue the case.
Pressed to respond to reports of a fifth accuser who reportedly approached the Vatican directly in October with accusations, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, read O'Brien's statement admitting to sexual misconduct and said the Vatican would say no more.
The Vatican and cardinals attending the session said the O'Brien case didn't come up during formal or informal conversations.
"It's a tragic moment for him," George said.
At a briefing discussing the priorities for the future pontificate, George said the next pope will have to follow canon law and keep priests who molested children out of parishes.
"He obviously has to accept the universal code of the church which is zero tolerance for anyone who has ever abused a minor child and therefore may not remain in public ministry in the church," George said. "That has to be accepted. I don't think that will be a problem."
Separately, the Vatican is still reeling from the fallout of the scandal over leaked papal documents, and the investigation by three cardinals into who was behind it.
American cardinals seem particularly keen to get to the bottom of the Vatican dysfunction, and they have had access to a very knowledgeable tutor, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's ambassador to Washington.
Vigano's letters to the pope were the most explosive leaks of documents last year; in them, Vigano pleaded with Benedict not to be transferred after exposing alleged corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts that cost the Holy See millions of euros (dollars).
Vigano was named the Vatican's ambassador to Washington, and as such has been able to give U.S. cardinals a clear-eyed view of the true state of the Vatican, said Corriere della Sera commentator Massimo Franco.
"They have appreciated him very much because he doesn't read the Vatican situation with a rosy lens, a rosy view," Franco said in an interview.
In his new book "The Crisis of the Vatican Empire," Franco paints a portrait of a Vatican completely falling apart, with financial scandals at its bank, backstabbing among its ruling class and the sex abuse scandal discrediting the church on the global stage.
"If we think of the pope, in a way the pope decided to sacrifice himself because he couldn't change anything," Franco said.
Coupled with the upheaval of Benedict's resignation, the scandals have contributed to create one of the most unclear papal elections in recent times.
"It will be a very open conclave with a very unpredictable outcome," Franco said.
In one of his last audiences before resigning, Benedict gave the three cardinals who investigated the leaks the go-ahead to answer their colleagues' questions about the results of their investigation.
"There are members of the College of Cardinals who are interested in having information that has to do with the situation in the Curia and the church in general and will ask to be informed by their colleagues," Lombardi said.
Trisha Thomas and Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.