Vatican muzzles U.S. cardinals, conclave start may be delayed

March 6, 2013

(Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini)

Vatican officials on Wednesday told cardinals gathered for the election of the next pope to stop speaking to the media, as further indications emerged that a conclave would not start early next week as had been expected.

American cardinals who had been scheduled to hold their third media briefing in as many days cancelled it less than an hour before it was to have started at Rome’s North American College, where they are residing.

A spokeswoman for the American cardinals said “concern” was expressed at Wednesday’s closed-door meeting “about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers”.

More than 150 cardinals attended the third day of the preliminary meetings to sketch a profile for the next pope following the shock abdication of Pope Benedict last month. All but two of the 115 “cardinal electors” aged under 80 have arrived for the meetings, the Vatican said.

In their briefings, the American cardinals did not disclose specifics but spoke generally about the proceedings as well as of their hopes and concerns about the state of the Catholic Church at a crucial time in its history.

The preliminary meetings are taking place as the crisis involving sexual abuse of children by priests and inappropriate behaviour among adult clerics continues to haunt the Church and has rarely been out of the headlines.

Asked about the cancellation of the U.S. briefing, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pre-conclave meetings, known as general congregations, had to take place in a “climate of confidentiality”.

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