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Theological Notebook--Silence Before the Conclave?

Well, it looks like the Cardinals have made a group decision to avoid talking to the media before the conclave. I'm of rather mixed mind about this. While I whole-heartedly agree with the idea that the Cardinals should not be unduly influenced or pressured to move toward any particular candidate, I would hope that these are people who have learned to know their own mind by now, and that the media isn't particularly a danger to their thinking. More importantly and realistically, though, it's in talking with the media during the novemdiales--these nine days of official mourning before the conclave--that really can let the Cardinals learn something about each other. This is too big a group for everyone to have a clear sense of who everyone else is. I wouldn't want to see crass campaigning, but it is otherwise an opportunity to make people and possibilities known.

Below, I excerpt the Reuters story talking about the Cardinals' apparent decision to not talk to the media, and then reproduce two interviews--with Cardinals Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of London, and Godfried Danneels of Brussels--of fellows who were quick enough to talk before this decision. Curiously, Danneels denied there was any intent by the Cardinals to cut off communication: he seems a pretty straightforward guy, so it looks like he was out of the loop on this one.

Edit: I just tossed in a more complete story to kick things off than the one I had originally.

Cardinals Prepare for Conclave in Rome


Apr 9, 4:13 PM (ET)

By NIKO PRICE

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(AP) Leaders of the Oriental churches bless the casket of Pope's John Paul II as cardinals, in red, look on, during his funeral in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Friday April 8, 2005. Tens of thousands of people jammed St. Peter's Square to say a final farewell to Pope John Paul II in the presence of kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers for a funeral capping one of the largest religious gatherings in the West in modern times. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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VATICAN CITY (AP) - Cardinals began "an intense period of silence and prayer" before their conclave to choose the next pope, saying Saturday they would stop speaking publicly to protect the strict secrecy surrounding the centuries-old tradition.



The throngs of pilgrims who attended John Paul II's funeral Friday flowed out of Rome, leaving mainly tourists in a quiet, rainy St. Peter's Square. The Vatican said a decision on calls to put John Paul on a fast track to sainthood would rest with the next pope.



Italian Cardinal Francesco Marchisano celebrated the second Mass for John Paul in St. Peter's Basilica, a daily rite over nine days that began with the funeral Mass. His homily praised "this infinite humanity" that he called the late pope's hallmark.



The Vatican also released photographs of the pope's tomb, a white marble slab, slightly raised off the floor and tilted, with the Latin letters IOANNES PAULUS PPII, and the dates of his 26-year reign. It also bears the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek, a common symbol with roots in early Christianity.



The grave is in the small grotto once occupied by the sarcophagus of Pope Paul XXIII, which was moved into the main floor of St. Peter's Basilica after his 2000 beatification because so many pilgrims wanted to visit his tomb.



The unanimous vote Saturday by 130 cardinals to maintain public silence about John Paul's successor was unprecedented. But in an era of continuous news updates and constant speculation, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called the media ban an "act of responsibility."



He asked journalists not to ask the cardinals for interviews and said they should not take the prelates' silence as an act of "discourtesy."



"The cardinals, after the funeral Mass of the Holy Father, began a more intense period of silence and prayer, in view of the conclave," Navarro-Valls said. "They unanimously decided to avoid interviews and encounters with the media."



At least two cardinals later turned down requests for interviews.



The lack of access to the cardinals was unlikely to stem the speculation about John Paul's successor, with worldwide interest peaking in what could be a tight competition between reformers and conservatives.



Navarro-Valls said 115 prelates will participate in the conclave, which will begin April 18 - all the cardinals under the age of 80 except for Cardinal Jaime L. Sin of the Philippines and Cardinal Alfonso Antonio Suarez Rivera of Mexico, who are too sick to attend.



John Paul took the name of an additional cardinal - kept secret apparently to protect him from a government that represses religious activity - to the grave.



Cardinal Karl Lehmann was quoted by the German newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung as saying race and background will play a role in the choice of the next pope, but there were no clear favorites and "probably also no firm alliances."



"One must be moved through voting, contacts and discussion to a consensus," he was quoted as saying.



John Paul was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. Some cardinals have called for a Latin American pope to reflect the huge number of Catholics in the region. Others have said the papacy should return to an Italian, while there are contenders from elsewhere in Europe, as well as from Nigeria and India.



St. Peter's Square, which was packed during the funeral by 250,000 pilgrims and dignitaries from 138 countries, was quiet a day later under a steady rain. Cafes and souvenir shops along nearby Via della Conciliazione reopened, finally freed of the crush of pilgrims.



"I can't talk to you," said a man hawking religious trinkets, key chains and figurines. "After 10 days without work, every second counts."



The exodus of pilgrims was wrapping up Saturday as visitors carrying backpacks, folded flags and rolled-up sleeping bags headed for train stations and parking lots on the outskirts of the city. Few stayed around to see the sights.



"We have come here only to pray," said Ula Maciejowska, 33, who was heading home to Oswiecim, Poland. "We will come another time to shop."



Rome's Mayor, Walter Veltroni, said Rome's population of 2.6 million doubled over the past week, giving a lower figure than earlier police estimates of 4 million visitors. He said 1.3 million people filed past John Paul's body.



Remarkably, the mayor said not a single incident of purse-snatching or theft was reported from Vatican City, the diminutive state that in 2002 was reported to have the highest crime rate in the world, mostly incidents such as pickpocketing.



He said Rome's main train station and the square at Tor Vergata University, where John Paul held a huge Youth Jubilee in 2000, will be renamed after the late pope.



The Vatican post office said special "vacant see" stamps, valid only until a new pope is named, will go on sale Tuesday. Collectors were expected to snap up the 700,000 stamps, which will be sold at the post offices around St. Peter's Square.






'How do you live Christ in today's secular culture?'


Murphy-O'Connor asks questions before conclave opens

By John L. Allen Jr.

Rome



It seems the cardinals have informally decided that after the pope's funeral on Friday, it would be inappropriate for them to talk to the press. If so, it would mean that the comments emerging this week may be the last we hear, at least from some of them, before the April 18 conclave begins.



In that spirit, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster held a sit-down session with a number of print journalists on Wednesday at the English College. Genial and soft-spoken, Murphy-O'Connor announced that he would not be commenting on the conclave or candidates to be the next pope. He also warned reporters that this was more or less their last shot, as he did not intend to organize similar sessions next week.



"There's a feeling, a sense, that the cardinals in the period before the conclave should not be giving interviews all around the place," Murphy-O'Connor said. "Nothing is written in stone, but there's a general feeling that the period after the funeral should be a period of quiet preparation" and prayer. "I would have thought that the media would understand that," he said.



He called the election of the next pope a "very great responsibility." He also said that he knew most of the cardinals, especially since he serves on a number of congregations.



As for John Paul's legacy, Murphy-O'Connor said he forged "a different way in which the Petrine ministry is in service, not just to the church but also to the world." The papacy under John Paul, he said, achieved a new role, influence, and moral voice. In part, he said, this is due to John Paul's charisma, in part due to modern communications, but also to his conception of the role of the pope.



On the subject of charisma, O'Connor was asked why it didn't seem to extend to the church -- after all, on John Paul's watch, at least in the developed world, vocations and Mass attendance in many places continued to decline.



"There may have been some slight exaggerations in people's reactions to him," Murphy-O'Connor said, "but he lived a dedicated life of service. I don't think they were just bowing down to a charismatic character."



Further, Murphy-O'Connor said, he was not in favor of "quick fixes" in the Catholic faith. "I don't expect people to be immediately converted. But this pope's witness has made people think."



Murphy-O'Connor then struck a very pastoral note.



"The fact that they're not going to church doesn't mean they're not Catholic, or Christian, he said.



Yet Murphy-O'Connor acknowledged that he couldn't just laugh off the point of the question.



"How do you live Christ in today's secular culture?" he asked. "How you do touch people where they itch? The Catholic church has to find new ways of doing that."



Someone asked Murphy-O'Connor if reform of the Roman curia would be an issue.



"It's not easy to be a member of the curia," he said. "Somebody has to do the work. Even a bishop has to rely on people to carry out his job." He also said that nobody from Rome has breathed down his neck in 27 years as a bishop.



Still, he gently conceded that the shape of the curia in the future will depend to some extent on "the papal stance," meaning, presumably, the attitude of the next pope.



Murphy-O'Connor said that he considered the church's relationship with Islam to be a "very important issue."



"In some parts of the Islamic world, it's not possible to dialogue because of a rigidity of belief. But in other parts of the Islamic world, it is possible, including Britain. That's very important. I would hope that the way of dialogue would increase, making inroads into the other parts of Islam. This needs to be done with urgency for the sake of peace in our world. The whole of Western society has to deal with the Islamic world, in terms of economics, aid, etc."



In response to a question, Murphy-O'Connor conceded that the relationship requires "some reciprocity."



"If we're going to trade with you, you must treat minorities with respect," he said. "That's fair enough."



Interestingly, Murphy-O'Connor did not express immediate assent to the idea of the pope's canonization.



"I'm always a bit afraid of canonizing someone ahead of time," he said. "The church is wise to wait. But he was a great pope, there's no question of that."



O'Connor said that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will attend Friday's funeral, along with Prince Charles and Tony Blair, the first time that the archbishop, the prime minister and the heir to the throne have been present at a papal funeral. O'Connor said it marked a change in English culture, in which the Catholic church is now "recognized and understood" in a new way.



Finally, the cardinal added one further insight into his conclave preparations. He said he's planning on bringing several books into the Casa Santa Marta, including a couple of a pious nature, and then maybe some Bronte or Jane Austen.



John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent.






A blueprint for the future papacy


By Stacy Meichtry, Rome

Rome



In a point-by-point "blueprint" of the future papacy, Godfried Danneels of Belgium, a cardinal on several papabili lists, made a carefully-worded appeal for the selection of a pontiff capable of adapting church teaching to the demands of the modern world.



Speaking to a press conference in English, Dutch, Italian and French, Danneels described a "man of dicernment," who would increase the number of women in church government, tackle the ethical challenges presented by modern science and revive the church's primacy in Europe without compromising its sensitivity to regional needs around globe.



"It was important and it will be important not only to express the truth but to make it plausible, attractive and beautiful," Danneels said.



Danneels declined to say how Roman Catholicism's next leader should go about adapting the church to modern demands. He instead focused on Pope John Paul II's reign, characterizing it as a progressive pontificate that opened the church up to new generations of faithful around the world.



"All these things that he initiated are only initiated, we have to complete it and we have to develop it," he said.



During an opening statement, Danneels said the church needed to extend the role of women in the church, but stopped short of suggesting that women should receive ordination -- an issue he described as a "very special and singular question."



"Certainly (women) should have the possibility to be in the government of the church; that's clear," he said. Danneels did not specify if women should be given top jobs in the Roman curia. In a 1999 interview with NCR, Danneels responded "Why not?" to the question of whether women could run curial agencies, citing the Congregation for the Laity as an example that would "make sense."



Danneels also emphasized the need for a cosmopolitan pontiff capable of bridging cultural gaps and balancing the regional needs of bishops with the doctrinal demands of the universal church.



"It would be a condition for a new pope to be a very sensitive man to see what's happening in the different continents," he said.



The next pope will also "have to struggle with ethical problems that shouldn't always be reduced to sexual problems," he said.



"Is technology and science really a humanization of mankind or a dehumanization of mankind?" he asked.



Danneels also gave frank assessments of the decline of church attendance throughout Europe.



"To be a Catholic or a Christian is not directly linked anymore to regular every week practice," he said.



Asked how the church intended to respond to the declining numbers, Danneels replied: "It would take an entire press conference. I have some ideas, but I don't have the time to respond." He added: "Before the conclave, next week, we will certainly talk about such problems."



Danneels also denied Italian media reports that the College of Cardinals was planning to cut off media access by the end of the week.



Thursday Milan's Correire della Sera reported that Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, had instructed his colleagues to limit their exposure to the media.



Danneels said, "There has been no interdiction from anyone anywhere anybody of speaking. But we have to be intelligent and respectful."



In an earlier press conference, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York City stressed the importance of focusing the church's attention on local parishes as cardinals prepare for the conclave. "If you ask me where I want the focus to be," he said, "That is what's going to gain us vocations, gain us increased numbers, gain us unity."



Stacy Meichtry is a freelance journalist based in Rome. He is reporting and writing for NCR during this period of papal transition.
Tags: catholicism, conclave, john paul ii, papacy, theological notebook
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