VATICAN CITY: Vatican officials 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 canceled 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 XVI 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.
Asked about the cancelation 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.”
Lombardi said the preparation by the cardinals toward the conclave “is a path in which the college of cardinals reflects in order to reach a decision, in conscience, of each of the members for the election of the Roman pontiff.”
Cardinals from other countries have also been speaking to the media informally on the streets near the Vatican but the Americans were the only group holding daily formal briefings.
The cancelation of the briefing means the only official source of information would come from a daily briefing by the Vatican spokesman.
The spokeswoman for the American cardinals said: “As a precaution, the [U.S.] cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.”
Under church law the cardinals have until March 20 to start a conclave to choose a new pope to lead the 1.2 billion-member church.
One cardinal leaving the meeting said there had been no formal discussion Wednesday of the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal, which led to the arrest of Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s butler, further besmirching the church’s reputation.
Gabriele was convicted of stealing personal papal documents and leaking them to the media. The documents alleged corruption and infighting over the running of its bank.