Troubled papacy / Cardinal Collins ready for ’astonishing experience’ of conclave in Rome


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Just days before his papacy ends, Benedict is expected to issue a law that would change the rules for electing a new pope.

As cardinals from around the world begin arriving in Rome for a conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, new shadows have fallen over the delicate transition, which the Vatican fears might influence the vote and with it the direction of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI

In recent days, often speculative reports – some even alleging gay sex scandals in the Vatican, others focusing on particular cardinals stung by the child sexual abuse crisis – have dominated headlines in the Italian news media, suggesting fierce internal struggles as prelates scramble to consolidate power and attack their rivals in the dying days of a troubled papacy.The reports, which the Vatican has vehemently refuted, touch on some of the most vexing issues of Benedict’s nearly eight-year reign, including a new round of accusations of child sexual abuse by priests and international criticism of the Vatican Bank’s opaque record-keeping. The recent explosion of bad press – which some Vatican experts say is fed by carefully orchestrated leaks meant to weaken some papal contenders – also speak to Benedict’s own difficulties governing, which analysts say he is trying to address, albeit belatedly, with several high-profile personnel changes.

The Vatican compared the news reports to attempts in the past by foreign states to exert pressure on papal elections, saying that any efforts to skew the choice of the next pope by trying to shape public opinion were “based on judgments that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment that the Church is living.”

Benedict made history by announcing that he would step down by month’s end. He said he was worn down by age and was resigning “in full liberty and for the good of the church.” But the volley of news reports since then appeared to underscore the backbiting in the Vatican that Benedict was unable to control, and provided a hint of why he might have decided that someone younger and stronger should lead the church.

At the conclusion of the Vatican’s Lenten spiritual retreat, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a papal contender, spoke darkly of the “divisions, dissent, careerism, jealousies” that he said plagued the Vatican hierarchy.

The recent spate of news reports were linked to an earlier scandal in which the pope’s butler stole confidential documents, an episode considered one of the gravest security breaches in the modern history of the church.

Last week, articles in the center-left daily newspaper La Repubblica and the center-right weekly Panorama, which largely did not reveal their sources, reported that three cardinals whom Benedict had asked to investigate the document scandal had found evidence of Vatican officials who had been put in compromising positions.

Latest leaks

Vatican experts speculated that prelates and their associates eager to undermine opponents during the conclave were behind the latest leaks to the news media. “The conclave is a mechanism that serves to create a dynasty in a monarchy without children, so it’s a complicated operation,” said Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Center in Bologna and author of a book on conclaves. Separately, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the reports were trying to “discredit the church and its government” ahead of the conclave.

The scandals have flourished in the fertile ground of power vacuums, not only at the Vatican but also in Italy, which is holding national elections Sunday and Monday. The end of Benedict’s papacy also dovetails with what appears to be the waning days an era dominated by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose media culture was marked by mudslinging.

Some Vatican experts said that recent news reports, which depict the Vatican as an unruly den of scheming Italian prelates, might convince the cardinals to choose a non-Italian pope or someone farther removed from the Vatican hierarchy. At the same time, other Italian news reports have seized on a petition by critics who say that Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles should not be allowed to attend the conclave, after the release of church files that show how he protected priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

While the battle lines inside the Vatican hierarchy and the College of Cardinals are difficult to discern, in Melloni’s view the news reports calling attention to Vatican scandals could shore up the more conservative cardinals who would lean toward electing “a sheriff, not a pope,” a figure who would focus on discipline more than the pastoral aspects of the role. Analysts said Benedict’s personnel decisions, meanwhile, appeared to reflect his own attempts to shift the power in the Vatican. The recent appointment of Ernst von Freyberg, a German industrialist and aristocrat, as the new director of the Vatican Bank, was aimed, according to the Vatican, at bringing the institution more in line with international banking standards. And Friday Benedict named Ettore Balestrero, 46, the Vatican’s undersecretary of state, as papal nuncio in Colombia, also making him a bishop. Technically a promotion, the move was also seen by many Vatican watchers as a way to move the prelate, who played a key role in overseeing the Vatican Bank, away from the power center in Rome.

On Monday, just days before his papacy ends, Benedict is expected to issue a law that would change the rules for electing a new pope, making it possible for the cardinals to start the conclave sooner than the traditional day waiting period after the papacy is vacant.

Cardinal Collins ready for ’astonishing experience’ of conclave in Rome

As he prepared to travel to Rome on Sunday, Toronto’s Thomas Cardinal Collins said he is “overwhelmed” by the thought of joining his fellow cardinals for the process of selecting a new pope.

Speaking with reporters just hours before he was due at the airport, Collins said he has been studying the thorough rules for conclave – the process of selecting a pope -- and what is expected of him as he enters the historic occasion.

“It is an astonishing experience, to be in a conclave -- I am overwhelmed to think of that,” he said. “But the Lord will guide us and I’ve been trying to do my best to reflect on what that will involve.”

It will be the first time Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, will cast a ballot for the next pope.

Collins was named a cardinal by Pope Benedict in 2012. There are 116 cardinals expected to descend on Rome in the coming days to select a new leader.

Leading up to conclave, Collins said he has been receiving emails from people offering “blessings for the journey” as the cardinals begin their task.

“It’s a great consolation to all of us to know the prayers of the people, of the whole church and many others around the world at this momentous time,” he said.

Collins said this week he has been praying for Pope Benedict, who drew a crowd of approximately 100,000 people to St. Peter’s Square on Sunday for one of his final public appearance as leader of the Catholic Church.

Acknowledging he is a newly anointed cardinal, Collins said he will be paying close attention to his peers before “casting in stone” the traits that he believes the next pontiff should possess in order to represent the roughly 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

“Obviously, we want a holy person, a person filled with the spirit of the Lord,” he said. “There are many, many possibilities there, but the question is: which one for now.”

Tthe Holy Spirit will ultimately guide the cardinals’ decision, Collins said.

Collins is arriving in Rome in time for the Pope’s final mass, to be held Wednesday.

Cardinals will meet with Pope Benedict on Thursday, the final day of his pontificate.

It is not exactly clear when conclave will begin.

According to the current rules, the earliest date possible is March 15 -- after a 15 to 20 day waiting period from when the papacy has become vacant has passed -- however, it is expected Benedict will move that date forward in order to have a new leader in place for Easter.

How will the new pope be chosen?

The surprise announcement from Pope Benedict XVI that he will resign on Feb. 28 thrusts the Roman Catholic Church into unfamiliar territory as it chooses a new leader.

The decision by Benedict, 85, marks the first time in nearly six centuries that a pontiff has chosen to give up the post.

The Holy See press office has said that Benedict will not take part in the conclave of cardinals who will go to Rome to choose his successor sometime in March.

Here’s a look at some of the questions surrounding the next six weeks in the life of the Catholic church in light of Benedict leaving the post he’s held since 2005.

Does the fact that it’s a papal resignation, rather than a death, affect the process of selecting the next pope?

As with so many elements of this story, it’s not 100 per cent clear.

"The short answer is we don’t know, because a resignation hasn’t happened since the medieval times, so we don’t know how that dynamic will affect the selection going forward," says Robert Dennis, a PhD candidate and teaching fellow in the history department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Yiftach Fehige, an associate professor at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, says the selection process will be the same.

The only difference, Fehige says in an email, is that the conditions for the vacancy of the Apostolic See are different. That means the current pope "freely resigns" and that the resignation must be "properly manifested, i.e. his fishermen’s ring must be melted, he moves out from the papal chamber, etc."

How does the conclave work?

Popes have traditionally been chosen at the conclave, a secret meeting of the College of Cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel. All cardinals younger than 80 can take part, a number reportedly around 117 or 118 at the moment.

The conclave opens at the Vatican with a mass led by the dean of the College of Cardinals, says Dennis. The cardinals then go to the Sistine Chapel to begin their deliberations, which can last for days. (The conclave that chose Benedict was one of the quickest in history, lasting only two days.)

While the deliberations are secret, Dennis says the cardinals will start by discussing the attributes they deem necessary in the next pope.

Pope Benedict XVI presides over the celebration of Vespers service in the Sistine Chapel on Oct. 31, 2012. It is within the confines of the Sistine Chapel that the next pope will be elected. L’Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images"They’ll begin to talk a little bit about the direction, the vision, what’s needed in a pope at the time because contexts change and circumstances change and the needs of the church change."

Eventually, they will begin voting, with each cardinal walking to the front of the chapel to cast his ballot.

"Each ballot is pierced, so it’s not counted more than one time and then slowly the names of the candidates begin to emerge," says Dennis.

Balloting continues, with two ballots a day, until one candidate emerges with two-thirds of the vote – a requirement set by Benedict that took the procedure back to a traditional level. The process had been changed by Pope John Paul II to allow only a slight majority of votes to determine the winner.

If the voting continues for three days, Fehige says, there could be a break of up to a day.

Fehige expects a new pope will be chosen within three days.

At the end of the procedure, white smoke emerges from a chimney in St. Peter’s Square, indicating a new pope has been chosen.

How is secrecy enforced and maintained?

During the selection process, cardinals can’t even call home unless it is a very important matter, says Fehige. They are disconnected from any form of media and "secrecy is also enforced by threat of excommunication," he says.

Very few outsiders are permitted inside.

"Two doctors are allowed into the conclave, as well as priests who are able to hear confessions in various languages and housekeeping staff," the BBC reported, and even they have to swear an oath of perpetual secrecy.

Who are the likely contenders to succeed Benedict?

As with any high-profile vacancy, speculation around who might be Benedict’s successor is rampant.

Fehige says it’s difficult to say who might be the next pope. "I would have never thought they [would] elect a German. They did."

Too often, he suggests, likely contenders enter history as contenders and not as popes.

Dennis thinks a non-European is a strong possibility, with a number of Latin-American candidates in the mix.

"One name much closer to home is Cardinal Marc Ouelett, who was the cardinal archbishop of Quebec City before leaving within the last year or two for a position in the Vatican. He’s quite charismatic, very well read, very well liked, very well known, so he certainly has a chance at election.”

Fehige, however, sees "zero" chance a Canadian will succeed Benedict.

"Canada is not the Vatican’s favourite, and none of the Canadian cardinals have what it takes to be pope. They are good in following, but poor in leading."

Comments on this Article
CDS, Kemmannu Wed, February-27-2013, 9:29
Cyril Sir, Indian Pope? even if you send a SMS to God with your request, he will send back a SMS saying "Sorry boy, Not in My Life Time". Sir this is not Indian politics but Vatican Politics,in which Kings had the rights to appoint or dislodge a Pope in earlier years.
Agree[0]
cyril mathias, udupi Wed, February-27-2013, 12:14
India is known for religions and culture.We are an ancient civilization.May the Vatican kindly select an Indian to be the next Pope.The Young cardinal from our country will give good leadership to the goodold church.Why should we have a Pope from Europe always?.If not an Indian Pope,at least a cardinal from Asia or Africa.Let the Holy Church change.
Agree[0]
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