The decision, communicated only an hour before a scheduled news conference with American cardinals on Wednesday afternoon, marked a quick end to a brief period of openness on the part of the Americans, who had said they hoped to keep reporters as informed as possible without breaking vows of secrecy.
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.
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, accused of covering up sexual abuse by priests, 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.
According to Vatican officials and experts, the media blackout might be more than a crackdown in reaction to the leak. It could also have a political dimension. 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.
In conclaves, as in comedy, timing is everything. And it has itself been a point of contention.
Contrary to the statements of some of the American cardinals in the news conferences, the Vatican has said that the selection of the conclave’s start date could occur without all the voting members of the college in attendance. In light of his retirement, Benedict had amended the Apostolic Constitution to empower the College of Cardinals to select the start date, as long as everyone was present.