U.S. Cardinals cancel daily Vatican press briefings

It’s tough to keep papal election proceedings secret in the information age. U.S. Cardinals have been “slapped down” for conducting daily press briefings on what’s happening at the Vatican these days, according to one observer. The Washington Post reports:

VATICAN CITY — Tensions among the Roman Catholic cardinals meeting here to choose a new pope appeared to escalate on Wednesday (March 6) as the American prelates in Rome canceled their daily press briefing under pressure from colleagues who are frustrated over news coverage of their secret talks.

The cardinals also announced that they still had not been able to agree on a start date for the conclave, in which 115 electors will cast their ballots for a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

The effort to control the flow of information from the daily pre-conclave “General Congregation” meetings marked a sharp reversal from the unprecedented openness that had characterized this first papal conclave of the digital age.

While all the cardinals swear an oath not to reveal details of their conversations, the Vatican press office has been giving a daily briefing each afternoon on the discussions, which are aimed at identifying the main challenges facing the church and helping the cardinals decide who among them might be best suited to confront those problems.

An hour after the Vatican briefing, at least two American cardinals would follow with a press conference of their own at the North American College, the elite U.S. seminary in Rome that overlooks St. Peter’s Basilica.

The American briefings were virtually the only time reporters could hear directly from the cardinals themselves. Because of the U.S. cardinals’ straightforward style, their press conference was drawing growing interest from the more than 5,000 journalists who have flocked to Rome for the conclave.

That clearly ruffled the feathers of some other cardinals, notably the Italians who still feel they have certain territorial privileges when it comes to events in Rome. On Wednesday, an hour before the U.S. briefing, reporters received an email saying it was canceled and would not be held again.

The U.S. cardinals “got slapped down,” the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Vatican expert and conclave analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. “They are a convenient scapegoat.”

“Italians are leaking to their favorite journalists, while Americans want to play fair, they want to give information to everyone at the same time. And they are punished for that.”

Read full story here.

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