United States cardinals want more time to discuss the Catholic Church’s challenges before embarking upon a conclave to elect a new pope, several Italian newspapers reported on Wednesday.
Cardinals are currently holding General Congregrations, a preliminary forum for discussions. During the meeting, general church problems are discussed. Once cardinals feel they are ready, a date for the start of the conclave is fixed.
“My feeling has never been that we would have started on March 10 or 11,” Chicago Archbishop Francis George was quoted as saying by La Stampa.
He also said the field of papal contenders “was getting wider, rather than narrower. The names you have seen in the papers make sense, but we are also talking about candidates that nobody has talked about until now.”
“There doesn’t seem to be a cardinal going into the conclave that everybody says is clearly going to be the pope,” Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl agreed, in an interview with the Vaticaninsider website.
As of Tuesday, five of the 115 cardinals expected to take part in the conclave still had to get to Rome. On Wednesday, cardinals started another congregation in the morning and were due to attend mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the afternoon.
Il Messaggero wrote that German cardinals backed their US peers’ demand to take a slower approach, while leading Italian cardinals such as the outgoing Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, wanted to get on with things.
“This is the time for a long reflection,” German Cardinal Walter Kasper said in an interview with La Repubblica. “This conclave must be prepared carefully,” he added.
The papal election is taking place against the backdrop of a string of serious corruption and sex scandals. Last week, Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien withdrew from the conclave after being accused of abusing priests, actions to which he later admitted.
The Church is also reeling from VatiLeaks — the leaking of confidential papal papers which exposed alleged power struggles and graft in the Roman Curia. Three cardinals have led a probe which remains secret, but their findings are being discussed informally in the run-up to the conclave.
“I am not saying that VatiLeaks will be a key factor, but I expect to know all the information that is relevant to the work we do,” Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley said in La Stampa. O’Malley, a Franciscan friar, is a contender for the papacy.
Reforming the Roman Curia to prevent fresh scandals will be one of the key priorities. Il Messaggero suggested that the new pope could appoint as secretary of state — the equivalent of a Vatican prime minister — Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
Mr. Vigano, currently Holy See ambassador to the US, was a key figure in the VatiLeaks affair. The leaked documents suggested he had been driven away from the Roman Curia and sent abroad after exposing too many instances of corruption inside the Vatican.