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Americans nix conclave briefing; concern of leaks

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 6 2013 11:29 a.m. MST

Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Tuesday brought a second day of pre-conclave meetings with cardinals to organize the election process and get to know one another. With a handful of cardinals still traveling to Rome, no date has yet been set for the start of the conclave that will elect the new Pope. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Andrew Medichini, AP

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican's penchant for secrecy has won out over American-style transparency.

The U.S. cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect the next pope canceled their popular daily press briefings Wednesday, purportedly after some details of the secret proceedings under way ahead of the election were leaked to Italian newspapers.

The Vatican denied it had exerted any pressure on the American cardinals to keep quiet. But the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, made clear that the Holy See considered this week's pre-conclave meetings, in which cardinals are discussing the problems of the church, to be secret and part of a solemn process to choose a pope.

"The College (of Cardinals) as a whole has decided to maintain a line of an increasing degree of reserve," he said.

The spokeswoman for the U.S. cardinals, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said Wednesday's briefing was canceled after other cardinals expressed concern in the morning "about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers."

She said that, as a precaution, all interviews had been canceled.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Walsh said Italy's La Stampa newspaper had on Monday and Tuesday reported details of comments individual cardinals made in the closed-door meetings that were cited as a violation of their oath of secrecy. That prompted the decision to observe a media blackout.

She dismissed speculation that the Vatican and cardinals from other countries simply didn't appreciate the openness of the Americans, saying, "I don't think anyone was angry at the Americans. They were angry at La Stampa.

"In true old-style Catholic school teacher fashion, someone talks and everybody stays after school," Walsh said. She added that the Americans had been assured that the Vatican was pleased with their briefings.

Perhaps. But Lombardi suggested he was irritated with the American briefings in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday, when asked whether he had considered inviting cardinals to his briefings to provide journalists with first-hand information from the participants.

Lombardi said he had decided against it because of the vow of secrecy and the natural reserve that is supposed to accompany the cardinals in these days preceding a conclave.

"If some cardinals think it's useful to communicate, naturally preserving the reserve they've committed themselves to concerning the election, I have no objections," he wrote. "I do my part helping journalists."

Italian media speculated that Vatican-based cardinals and Italian cardinals in particular were displeased with the popular American briefings — they were the only ones holding press conferences — and the U.S. openness about wanting to delay the start date of the conclave.

Cardinals Daniel DiNardo of Texas and Sean O'Malley of Boston said in Tuesday's briefing that they favored taking a longer time for pre-conclave discussions to gather more information about the problems of the Vatican bureaucracy and discern who among them should be pope.

"We need to give it the time that's necessary," O'Malley told the packed press conference at the North American College, the U.S. seminary up the hill from the Vatican. "I believe the feeling of the cardinals is that we want to have enough time in the general congregations so that when we go to the conclave itself it's a time of decision."

Drawing laughs, O'Malley added: "And it is hard to get a bad meal in Rome."

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