Cardinals denied access to report

By John Cooper

Vatican keeps result of investigation into leaking of documents secret, writes John Hooper.

The Sistine Chapel where the cardinals will hold their conclave and (below) firefighters place the chimney that will signal a new pope has been elected. Photo / AP
The Sistine Chapel where the cardinals will hold their conclave and (below) firefighters place the chimney that will signal a new pope has been elected. Photo / AP

It is known throughout the Vatican as the Relatio (Narration). It is contained in two stiff, unmarked red folders and runs to around 300 pages.

Lying in a safe in the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St Peter's Square, it will be at the forefront of the minds of the 115 cardinals who tomorrow night are to start the conclave that elects the next pope.

In the Relatio are the findings of three cardinal-detectives, appointed last year by former pope Benedict XVI to investigate the leaking of documents from his study. The cardinals, headed by a Spanish member of the Opus Dei fellowship, Cardinal Julian Herranz, discovered the main source of the leaks - the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele.

But they found a great deal else. According to one unconfirmed report, they stumbled on a gay sex ring in the Vatican, some of whose members had been blackmailed.

Already dismayed by the blunders that marred Benedict's papacy, many of the cardinals in Rome to elect his successor are seething with resentment towards the Roman Curia, the predominantly Italian bureaucracy that administers the Catholic Church. "The anti-curial - and anti-Italian - feeling is almost palpable," said a source close to their deliberations.

On the first day of last week's pre-conclave discussions, three cardinals demanded that Herranz circulate the Relatio. For Massimo Franco, author of a book on the protracted crisis rocking the Vatican, this was more than prurient curiosity. "The cardinals must vote with a clear view of the situation in the Vatican. Otherwise, they could be voting for a pope who is accused of wrongdoing in the report. If that comes out afterwards, it would cause mayhem."

Neither can they avoid that risk by voting for a pastoral cardinal - one who is an archbishop in his own country. Most have at least one seat on the committees that oversee the work of the Vatican's departments and they are frequent visitors to Rome. Innocently or otherwise, one or more could have been linked to events detailed in the Relatio.

Yet Herranz's reaction was to hold out, apparently signalling that Benedict ordered the report be kept for his successor. Many in and around the Vatican interpreted his reaction as confirmation of something becoming apparent - faced with demands for transparency, the departmental satraps of the Curia were closing ranks. Indeed, the approach to this conclave has brought about an apparent, if temporary, healing of the breach between the Vatican's two most renowned adversaries, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, and his predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. As a result, a conclave that had been billed as a trial of strength between the two men is shaping up instead as a battle between the "Romans" and invading "Barbarians".

The first group includes the power-brokers in the Vatican and their allies, many of whom are Italians; the second faction, bent on shaking the Curia to its foundations, is led by cardinals from the United States and Germany. But to see it as a contest between conservatives and liberals would be a mistake. There are precious few liberals.

The choices are deceptive. The Romans have put their faith in a cardinal who is neither Italian nor curial: the archbishop of Sao Paulo, Odilo Scherer. Though an "out-of-towner", Scherer is well versed in the ways of the Vatican. The extent of the curial insiders' trust in him is shown by his appointment to the commission that oversees the Vatican bank. The Barbarians' hopes have coalesced around an Italian, Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan. A disciple, like Benedict, of the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Scola is intimately linked to the conservative fellowship Communion and Liberation. Temperamentally, though, he is unlike Benedict and could vigorously wield the new broom the Barbarians would like to see sweep through the Vatican. He is handicapped by his association with Communion and Liberation, which has been tarnished by a corruption scandal in Lombardy.

The Barbarians have money; the Americans and Germans between them provide much of the cash that keeps the Vatican afloat. The other advantage is the US contingent's apparent unity of purpose.

The Romans have arithmetic on their side. Of the 115 cardinal-electors, 39 hold - or have held - top curial positions. Another nine are Italians outside the Vatican. Some do not share the Curia's instinctive aversion to transparency, but there are others in the field who do. It is there, among the "floating voters" of the emerging countries that the deciding votes are likely to be cast. "The Curia feels itself to be very strong," said Massimo Franco. "Under threat, but strong."


The timetable

*7am (7pm NZT) - The 115 cardinal electors move into St Martha's House, where they will eat and sleep cut off from the world.
*10am - Cardinals take part in a special Mass in St Peter's Basilica.
*3.45pm - Cardinals walk or take a minibus in strict isolation from St Martha's House to the Apostolic Palace.
*4.30pm - Cardinals hold a procession through the Apostolic Palace from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel.
*4.45pm - Cardinals swear not to reveal details of their deliberations on pain of excommunication. Staff are ordered to leave the chapel with the Latin phrase "Extra Omnes" and a prayer is read.
*7.15pm - Cardinals recite vespers.
*7.30pm - Cardinals return to St Martha's House.
*8pm - Cardinals eat their first conclave dinner.

Successive days:
*6.30am (6.30pm) - Breakfast at St Martha's.
*7.45am - Departure for Apostolic Palace.
*8.15am - Mass in the Pauline Chapel.
*9.30am - Prayers and voting in Sistine Chapel
*12.30pm - Departure for St Martha's.
*1pm - Lunch.
*4pm - Departure for chapel.
*4.50pm - Prayers and voting in Sistine Chapel.
*7.15pm - Vespers in the chapel.
*7.30pm - Departure for St Martha's.
*8pm - Dinner.

Smoke signals:
*Ballots will usually be burnt twice a day - following the two rounds of voting in the morning and two rounds in the afternoon.
*The puffs of black smoke indicating no election or white smoke indicating an election can be expected around noon (midnight) and 7pm (7am).
*If there is an election in a first round of voting the ballots are burnt immediately to produce the white smoke, which could happen at 10.30am (10.30pm) or 11am and 5.30pm (5.30am) or 6pm.


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