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.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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