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Countdown to the Conclave, Day 9: Did the American Cardinals Talk Too Much?

By Deal W. Hudson & Deacon Keith Fournier
March 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The decision of the U.S. cardinals to hold daily press briefings can no doubt be understood, exactly as explained by Cardinal DiNardo, an attempt to help Catholics understand the process of a proceeding clothed in the attire of a mysterious ritual.  

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic online) - Fox News is reporting that someone among the U.S. cardinals has been talking to freely to the Italian press. As a result the U.S. cardinals cancelled their 30-minute daily press briefings. The Vatican denied any pressure was exerted leading to their decision. 

The leaks are being explained away, cordially, as the difference between an American style "openness" and the more aloof style of European cardinals, especially the Italians.  

Rev. Federico Lombardi, chief Vatican spokesman, reiterated, "The College [of Cardinals] as a whole decided to maintain a line of an increasing degree of reserve."

The problem came to light on Monday and Tuesday when La Stampa, a leading Italian newspaper, reported specific remarks made by individual cardinals in the closed pre-conclave sessions.  This was considered a "violation of their oath of secrecy," according to Fox.  

More than one media outlet, including the Associated Press, has noted the accessibility of the U.S. cardinals in contrast to the others. On Monday and Tuesday a  press conference was held for 100 reporters with Cardinal DiNardo of Houston and Cardinal O'Malley of Boston.  

Cardinal DiNardo defended the meeting, saying, "We're trying to help people have a greater understanding of what the process is and the procedures and background information." Cardinal O'Malley was asked to comment further but declined, in a puzzling way, "Right now that's about all we can share with you but we're happy to try to do it." 

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the spokeswoman for the U.S. cardinals, downplayed the controversy, "I don't think anyone was angry at the Americans, they were angry at La Stampa."  Given the personalities involved and the dramatic setting, the facts are probably far more complicated as various individuals and coalitions jockey for position prior to the voting. (Remember there is still an official heresy in Catholic teaching called "Americanism.")

The decision of the U.S. cardinals to hold daily press briefings can no doubt be understood, as explained by Cardinal DiNardo, an attempt to help Catholics understand the process of a proceeding clothed in the attire of a mysterious ritual. We are speculating, but there surely are some cardinals who did not appreciate the Americans hosting a daily gathering for 100 of the world's leading journalists, while the rest of the cardinals maintained a rigid silence. 

It's ironic that Cardinal O'Malley, only a day earlier, told an audience at the North American College that he expected the cardinals would be receiving a briefing on the "Vatileaks" scandal of the past year: "I assume that important information will be shared that will help us make our decisions."

Among those documents leaked were letters to Benedict XVI from Carlo Maria Vignano, the present Vatican nuncio to the United States, written while Vignano was deputy governor of Vatican City. One of the letters contained accusations against members of the Vatican's Finance and Management Committee of improper use of over 2.3 million dollars.  Other leaked documents deal with Vatican financial and bank scandals going back to the early 1980s. 

Given the nature of the leaked information, it's no wonder Cardinal O'Malley, and presumably the other cardinals, expect a full briefing. One wonders, and again we are speculating, whether Cardinal O'Malley's making public his expectation of a "Vatileaks" briefing has any connection to the criticism of the daily meetings with the press hosted by the U.S. cardinals. 

An excellent strategy for taking the spotlight off the so-called "Vatileaks" is to create a leak "scandal" of sorts involving the U.S. cardinals. But then, as we have said, this is only speculation.  

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