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As Conclave Nears, Media Play a Role (3254)

NEWS ANALYSIS: Leaking confidential Vatican information has a way of influencing the conclave and the life of the Church.

03/08/2013 Comment
EWTN file photo

Cardinals pray during their second general meeting on March 4, 2013 in the Vatican's New Synod Hall.

– EWTN file photo

ROME — The recent media silence of the cardinals resulted in an anonymous interview to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in which a source claimed there is “a lobby” of leakers.

That group is composed of people “coming from the State Secretariat, the Vatican city state administration, the APSA (a sort of Vatican Central Bank) and the Italian Bishops’ Conference,” the unnamed source said.

“The problem is not the kind of news, but that such confidential news broke out,” said a Vatican Secretariat of State official who spoke to EWTN News under the condition of anonymity.

The question that lingers on the minds of many is: Why have the leaks resumed?

While press attention has focused on the American cardinals’ daily briefings being canceled, American journalists were not the real problem, explained the U.S.  bishops’ conference spokeswoman.

“Concern was expressed in the general congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference in a March 6 statement.

On March 5-7, details about the discussions taking place at the cardinals’ preliminary meetings were published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa. These talks are confidential, and everyone, from the cardinals to the translators, has taken an oath of secrecy, so as to guarantee a certain freedom of speech.

However, leaking information from these gatherings has always been a way of influencing the conclave and the life of the Church in general.

In the 1978 conclave, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri was one of the most valued papal candidates. Before entering the conclave, he gave an interview to the Italian local paper Corriere Mercantile, with the condition that it would be published when the cardinals were already “closed” in the Sistine Chapel, without any opportunity to read newspapers or hear about what happened in the “external world.”

But Cardinal Siri’s conditions weren’t met. The interview was published a few hours before the conclave, so the cardinals were able to read it before entering the Sistine Chapel.

In the interview, Cardinal Siri attacked the way the Second Vatican Council’s reforms had been implemented, which turned part of the College of Cardinals against him.
This anecdote shows that  media coverage is part of the strategy for the conclave.

Thus, cardinals affiliated with the Curia reopened their confidential relationships with the media when the preliminary meetings began.

Sandro Magister, a prominent Vatican analyst, said that “even Joaquin Navarro Valls, under John Paul II’s pontificate had his favorite journalist, whom he gave news to. And also (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s particularly powerful secretary, used to inspire some of the articles published by the press.”

However, that paradigm changed considerably under Benedict XVI.

His personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, was known for his zeal in filtering access to papal audiences and for not being closely connected with the press.

The result was that few pieces of information made their way out of the papal apartment, and just a few bishops and cardinals had direct access to the pope. This left the Curia officials, who were used to having information, in the dark, and it also indirectly influenced the pope’s former butler — Paolo Gabriele — to launch the now-infamous Vatileaks scandal.

The interview published March 7 in La Repubblica is a signal that Paolo Gabriele is not alone and that confidential information will continue to find its way out of the Vatican.

“In fact,” a well-informed monsignor who has close ties to the Vatican explained, “they want Vatileaks to be determining.”

Those affiliated with the Curia “attack the lack of transparency of Benedict XVI’s Curia, and they claim that this is in contrast with Benedict XVI’s commitment to transparency,” said the monsignor.

“Transparency does not mean, on the other hand, a lack of confidentiality.”

Filed under benedict xvi, papal conclave, vatican