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Interregnum report, March 6

The news out of Rome begins with news about news no longer available.John Thavis writing late yesterday:

U.S. cardinals are getting rave reviews from journalists for their availability during the general congregations leading up to the conclave. In contrast to their brethren from the rest of the world, the Americans are holding well-organized daily press briefings at North American College, just up the hill from the Vatican press office. Chaired by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops conference, these sessions typically feature two U.S. cardinals who field questions for a half-hour. The relatively rapid-fire Q and A in English is a welcome complement to the lengthy, multi-lingual briefings offered by non-cardinals at the Vatican.

John Thavis writing early today:

I guess it was too good to continue. U.S. cardinals abruptly canceled their planned briefing today, and no further briefings were scheduled. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who had coordinated the U.S. press encounters, said in an email: Concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.

What changed overnight? Thavis has his thoughts here, while John Allen weighs in at NCR.Vatican Radio reports that one hundred thirteen of the one hundred fifteen electors are now in Rome, with one of the missing slated to arrive late today and the last sometime tomorrow. Still no official start date for the conclave, but more than 4,440 journalists from dozens of countries have so far been accredited to cover it. Meanwhile, preparations continue at the Sistine Chapel; if youre seeking footage of workers bringing in the ballot boxes, stove, and chimney, all scored to nice music, its hereAs for the contenders: John Allen profiles Spanish Cardinal Antonio Caizares Llovera. The biography is interesting as it goes, but there's also the story of Llovera's nickname: little Ratzinger.

[It] comes from earlier in his career, when Caizares served as the chief of staff for the doctrine committee of the Spanish bishops' conference from 1985 to 1992 (The qualifier "little" works in another sense too, as Caizares is a fairly short man. In pictures with the pope, Benedict often seems to tower over him.)Both admirers and detractors of Caizares have embraced the nickname "little Ratzinger," suggesting that whether you find his similarity to the retired pope encouraging or distressing, everyone can agree it fits.

Also, we've reposted our 2010 web exclusive on Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet (that's him in the photo, arriving at the synod hall today); you can read it here. Meanwhile, Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekanalso counted among the papal contenders says certain circumstances make condom use a duty. And Cardinal Sean OMalley is the subject of a Boston Globe editorial: Whatever happens at the conclave, the focus on O'Malley is based on a realistic assessment of the church's needs. In The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot comments on the presence of Cardinal Roger Mahony at the conclave and what it might say about the kind of pope we can expect [subscription].

What is distinctive about child abuse in the Catholic Church is not its existence, or even its coverup; in recent months alone, weve seen evidence of similar cowardice at Penn State and the BBC. What is distinctive is that Catholic officials can find a higher purposeprotecting the sanctity of the priesthoodin shielding abusers, and a spiritually rewarding humility in enduring criticism of their conduct. Mahony has been blogging about the public disparagement he has received, and he compares it to what Christ withstood, urging the faithful to join him in exploring what it is to take up our cross daily and to follow Jesusin rejection, in humiliation, and in personal attack. But, unlike the criminal prosecution of perpetratorsor real Church reformthat doesnt do much to help victims or to prevent abuse.

Of potential interest stateside, results from the latest New York Times/CBS poll of American Catholics are up. Short version: Frequent Mass-goers depart from official church stances on same-sex marriage and birth control; seven out of ten respondents say the Vatican has done a poor job of handling sexual abuse; and overall, Benedict made little impression. See the full story, though, for some interesting follow-up responses from those who were surveyed. And with the Knights of Columbus (among others) encouraging intercessions-by-Twitter during this transitional period, Religion Dispatches Peter Manseu poses the question: do Tweeted devotions change the meaning and nature of prayer?

Apart from being a technology of instant communication, Twitter is a massive catalogue of otherwise unrelated information. Prayers offered ephemerally--whether spoken aloud in a group, or silently while alone--inevitably mean something quite different when they become quantifiable, static, and searchable by keyword.

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These roundups are a great feature, and if I had any friends, I would urge them all to check in daily on dotCom.Very interesting about the kibosh being put on the American press briefings. We're frequently critical of the US bishops' apparent lack of media savvy, but apparently the Americans have the highest batting average in the Vatican League.

There's nothing snippier than a snippy Italian prelate:http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/conclav..."The director of the Holy See Press Office expressed irritation today at U.S. cardinal's on-the-side press briefings."Maybe if Lombardi and the much-ballyhooed Greg Burke were doing their jobs correctly, this side stuff might not have been necessary.

Q: Who's the real boss, the curia or the cardinals?A: The curia, obviously. Proof: They express irritation at U.S. cardinals on-the-side press briefings, and the cardinals shut up.

John Allen's piece about the discontinuance of the cardinals' briefings gives both pros and cons for the crack-down. But I find it very discouraging that the cardinals as a group have decided against transparency. Haven't they learned anything? Is truth such a threat?

From John Allen's piece: "From a strictly PR point of view, [Cardinal] George turned a bad news day for the church [more discussion of Cardinal O'Brien] into a fairly good one. Now, that sort of save is no longer an option."That would matter only if there are going to be more bad news days, and it would be a disadvantage only if PR is the preeminent concern. Not that anyone would ever think that.

What's real dumb is to say nothing and then bellyache about what a million ignorant but desperate journalists discover and print by talking to each other.

I predict that we'll have the ordination of married men soon; in tandem with implementing the document forbidding people with "deep homosexual tendencies" from becoming priests and reinforcing the "infallible" document saying that women cannot be priests.The Pope who would do this with the greatest vigor is Timothy Dolan of New York.

We need a contemporary Xavier Rynne to fill in the blanks.

In all the messiness of the conclave, there is one constant that reminds me of the faithful presence of the Holy Spirit. I mean the Swiss guards in their utterly ridiculous yet beautiful uniforms. The improbability that such silly things could actually succeed in doing what they're supposed to do is a reminder that in spite of all the silliness at the conclave, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.Here are two of them.http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/

Yesterday, Fr. Komonchak posted a comment in which he cites Enzo Bianchi as saying of the cardinals assembled in Rome "Above all, they must not lie." That a serious person, as both Bianchi and Komonchak are has to say this is stunning. It's one thing to campaign for a candidate for the papacy, or any other office for that matter. It's quite another to feel called upon to remind the cardinals that they ought not to lie to one another. Can one lie and say that doing so is part of discerning what the Holy Spirit would have one do?

Secrecy is the curia's defense against everything. What are they afraid might leak out? Nothing remains a secret for long. Better to let it air now than to have to lie and cover up later.

Agree about the Enzo Bianchi citation. I think it contains the essence of the problem: "In my simple opinion from the margins, the crisis that the Churchand especially its Roman center is passing through is caused by lying and not by other, more scandalous problems. Its time for boldness, frankness, honesty toward one another; its time to say what one thinks in complete sincerity. Otherwise every word is polluted, and where there is lying, there is blackmail and fear." I think the key word in that is BLACKMAIL. (Was Pope Benedict's resignation due to blackmail?)A polygraph test administered to each cardinal could allay doubts about the lack of honesty.

It seems that I have heard something like this story before, 50 years ago - at Vatican II. On the first working session, October 13, 1962 the Vatican preparatory committees gave the bishops an agenda the first thing was the election of the bishops for the various commissions. Cardinal Linart of Lille protested. The bishops needed more time to get to know each other. Cardinal Frings of Cologne for whom Fr. Ratzinger was peritus, seconded the motion. It was then, some people say that the bishops took back the council and made it their own.When are the cardinals in Rome today going to protest the bullying by the Vatican Curia members and own their sacred collegial duty to elect the pope on their terms? When are they going to protest being treated like children? (Thank you, Sister Mary Ann Walsh.) When are people like Bert one, who used wire tapping when the Vatileaks occurred, going to lose power?

Sandro Magister has an article that amazes me. He seems convinced that a coalition of -- get this -- curial cardinals and progressive ones (yes, "progressive") will prevail with their choice of Cdl. Dolan, or maybe O'Malley. The rhetoric of the article is excessive and, i think, shows a lot of wishful thinking on Magister's part. But who ever knows with these things. Sigh.http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350453?eng=y

CorrectionWhen are people like Bert one... . (I meant Bertone). Did not want to imply he was a Sesame Street character.

Mr. Dauenhauer - yes, they can do that - it is called *mental reservation*.

Oops -- I really read that Magister article. The curial cardinals are for Scherer, not Dolan.

This isn't directly about the conclave, but it's about one of the great problems facing many third- world cardinals. In his blog, the sociologist of religion Peter Berger makes an important distinction between *secularism* and *pluralism* of religious beliefs in a formerly homogeneous culture. See his Feb. 27 post, "The Roman Catholic Church, Brazil, and the Pluralistic Revolution". Actulally, I'd like t recommend it to the cardinals, if I could.http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/berger/

Ann - I agree that Peter Berger piece is pretty interesting. I'm always amazed how a blogger can just whip off a 5,000 word coherent blog post :-). His views of the church in a pluralistic world seem pretty much right to me. Catholicism in the US has been dealing with pluralism all my life, including adopting some of the quasi-Pentecostal initiatives that are now being tried out in Brazil. The much-maligned "guitar mass" is probably a relatively mild form of this, and of course there are charismatic movements and stadium events in US Catholicism.

Jim P. --Yes, Berger is impressive :-) I particularly like his willingness to accept as valuable the sorts of liturgical expressions that Catholics often condemn as "circuses", as Vargas Llosa puts it. VL's article about benedict recommended in another thread is also very enlightening, but I think that Berger's view on this point has to get my nod. No, I don't *like* jangly guitar Masses with hymns with pitiful lyrics, but that is just too damn bad. We must be willing to recognize the value of other peoples' liturgies that we think of as ridiculous. To affirm only our own rituals is itself the sort of relativism that Benedict abhors (while at the same time condemning de facto liturgical relativism on the basis of his love of Western form!! Ah, the irony!!)I doubt that we agree about this point. Maybe we should have a thread on it. It's a terribly important issue to some people: what is the value of counter-cultural liturgies, if any?

"We must be willing to recognize the value of other peoples liturgies that we think of as ridiculous."To one extent or another, this is the lived experience of virtually every Catholic in the US. We don't like the music, or the architecture, or the preaching, or the way communion is given out, or... or... or ..."To affirm only our own rituals is itself the sort of relativism that Benedict abhors (while at the same time condemning de facto liturgical relativism on the basis of his love of Western form!! Ah, the irony!!)"We'd need to agree on what is meant by the term "liturgical relativism". It seems to me that there is a deeper unity that underlies (to use the model from the 1970s in the US) the "downstairs guitar mass" and the "upstairs organ mass". "Its a terribly important issue to some people: what is the value of counter-cultural liturgies, if any?"Whether it's a Christian rock mass, or a mass in Spanish, I think most of these adaptations are a pretty straightforward attempt to "give the people what they want." Not always successfully, of course.On a deeper level, there is something counter-cultural about the mass itself - the contents of the Lectionary, for example, with its Old Testament prophetic imprecations of the wealthy who exploit the poor, or its New Testament recounting of the Sermon on the Mount. And I am sure there are a number of ways that the Eucharist can be thought of as counter-cultural: the radical table sharing that it models, for example,

I thought that the Italians had pretty much been identified as the leakers. But this seems to state otherwise:http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/conclav..."There is still no decision on the date but the Curia has imposed a media blackout so cardinals are not allowed to give information tot he press. Tensions have been rising in the past few days, leading to yesterday morning's clash between Romans and foreigners. The Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano and the Camerlengo, Bertone (who have formed an alliance against cardinals outside the Curia after eight years of mutual hostility) did everything in their power to contain the solid group of U.S. cardinals. In the name of transparency, U.S. cardinals had held a series of parallel news briefings with the press on the issues relating to the Conclave. The briefings were held at the Pontifical North American College where the cardinals are currently staying. For this reason on Monday Rigali, the U.S. cardinal who is closest to the Curia, was given the task, through Re, of letting his group know that these news briefings were inappropriate. On Tuesday, Sodano supporter Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo also had a go at urging them to stop: Americans talk to the press more because it's their style, they are expansive. A glasnost which violates a century-old tradition of discretion and stealthy caution. The American cardinals finally gave in to growing pressure from the Vatican, cancelling their umpteenth press briefing. The Vatican's irritation came like a slap in the face in the midst of the Synod Hall. "Concern was expressed in the general congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings, the U.S. cardinals' spokesman Mary Ann Walsh later explained. Dolan's 14:30 press conference was cancelled an hour before it was due to start. "Let's imagine for the moment that the US group HAS been doing the leaking. Who among them is known for shooting off his mouth on a regular basis? (Gerelyn?)

Jim P. ==To approach your reply backwards -- The Mass is the most counter-cultural kind of event imaginable: it could be described, and has been described as cannibalistic. And it is!!! (And doesn't THAT tell us something about God's own estimate of the value of at least some counter-cultural events. So there.) Yes, rock and guitar Masses give some people what the want, but what they want is often what they *need*. I agree that many of the liturgies they invent are not the greatest aesthetically, as the Latin Mass used to be to people of many sorts with open minds. But if a rock Mass satisfies their spiritual needs, then it is the best for them. Is that a kind of relativism? Yes, but a good kind, I think. (By the way, if we had enough priests this wouldn't be a problem -- there could be several different sorts of Mass in each parish each Sunday.)What I meant by "liturgical relativism" in that context was that Benedict seems to think that there is only one "best" liturgy for all/most people, and that liturgy is his native one. I think that judgment had its origin in his own cultural prejudice, not in the facts of non-Westerners' experience. His so-called "knowledge" of the liturgical superiority of the organ over other instruments is a matter of cultural prejudice. Consider that drums for Africans are, in the context of their liturgies far superior than organs, apparently, and one might even say that the lowest pitched organ sounds are poor imitations of drums, depending on the kind of music to be made.