Vatican: Cardinals off-limits for interviews

I’m on my way to the Vatican and hope to get interesting interviews that highlight the papal conclave proceedings and the issues facing the Catholic Church — but I didn’t expect to corral a cardinal for a sit-down.  Good thing, too, because the Vatican has now clamped a lid on access to cardinals, perhaps a reaction to interviews given by US cardinals over the last few days:

The College of Cardinals that will elect the next pope cut off formal communications with the news media on Wednesday after their private deliberations emerged in the Italian press, raising the specter of a leaking scandal that cast a pall over the last year in office of Pope Benedict XVI.

“Concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has organized news conferences with American cardinals in recent days. “As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.” …

The Vatican declined to specify who in the college expressed opposition to the news briefings, saying only that as the cardinals prepare for the conclave that will elect the next pontiff, “they realize the importance of keeping things among themselves,” said the Rev. Tom Rosica, a Vatican spokesman.

One interpretation is that some of the cardinals were concerned about the messaging from American cardinals about their approach to the conclave:

One Vatican official speaking on background said that Italian cardinals, some of whom stand to benefit most from a quick conclave, had expressed misgivings about the American news conferences, during which U.S. prelates articulated what they were looking for in a pope. They often described criteria that did not match the characteristics of cardinals in the curia. The American cardinals also repeatedly said they wanted more time to listen to their colleagues and get to know one another, a position that Vatican experts said diminished the chances and power of better-known Roman officials, many of them Italian, who would gain from a speedier process.

Another is that they’ve just had it with leaks from their opening meetings:

A report Wednesday by Italy’s most authoritative Vatican reporter, La Stampa’s Andrea Tornielli, disclosed details of the cardinals’ private deliberations, including the revelation that they had called for reforms of the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that governs the Catholic Church, and had asked for more information about the leaking of papal correspondence, a scandal known as VatiLeaks that engulfed the Vatican last year. Tornielli also reported that embattled Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles had spoken, that cardinals called for better communications between the pope and the heads of the various church departments, and that some cardinals wanted to extend the preliminary talks into next week.

On the other hand, maybe they’re just tired of answering the same question over and over again:

On Tuesday, spokesman Federico Lombardi said it was not necessary for all of the 115 cardinal electors — cardinals below the age of 80 — to be present in Rome for the date to be set, though there seemed to be some confusion among cardinals as to whether they had to wait for three colleagues still missing to arrive.

“It’s not a question of rules. Even if all the cardinal electors were here in Rome I would still not want to go into the conclave now,” George said in an interview with La Stampa daily.

“We need the necessary information to be able to make the right choice. What went wrong, to create this break in trust within the government of the Holy See? It is a concern, and one we’ve not had a formal report about,” he added.

Like I said, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that cardinals would be available for interviews before the start of the conclave, so this won’t change my approach to coverage at all. Frankly, I thought I might end up arriving after the cardinals had already been sequestered in the Sistine Chapel, and this is more or less the same situation. Stay tuned.