US cardinals fall silent as conclave secrecy grows

VATICAN CITY (AFP) – US cardinals in Rome abruptly cancelled media briefings on Wednesday in a victory for pre-conclave secrecy as workers readied the Sistine Chapel for a historic ceremony to elect the next pope after Benedict XVI’s resignation.

“Concern was expressed about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, US Conference of Catholic Bishops spokeswoman, said in a statement.

US cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, had been due to address journalists at the Pontifical North American College in Rome as part of a series of congenial briefings which have drawn crowds of journalists.

Italian media earlier on Wednesday reported there were “sparks” flying at pre-conclave meetings between US and German cardinals, keen to have longer discussions ahead of the conclave, and Italian ones pushing for a papal election as quickly as possible.

The Vatican denied it had intervened directly to censor the electors, with spokesman Federico Lombardi saying: “it seems natural that the path towards the conclave lead progressively to greater reflection and discretion.”

While all cardinals taking part in the pre-conclave meetings are bound to secrecy on pain of excommunication, there had been a growing openness among electors in general about the problems facing the Church and what the future may hold.

“We need a new way of governing the Church. A more horizontal government. The Curia must be revolutionised,” German Cardinal Walter Kasper said in an interview with La Repubblica daily, referring to the Vatican’s bickering governing body.

The Curia in particular has become one of the key issues of debates after secret papal documents leaked to the press last year in a scandal dubbed “Vatileaks” alleged corruption and intrigue in the administration and infighting many hope the new pope will tackle.

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