Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinals begin pre-conclave talks on electing pope in Vatican

Cardinals arrive at the Vatican for first in series of meetings ahead of conclave that will determine Pope Benedict's successor

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 2:42am

Catholic cardinals yesterday pressed for more information about the "Vatileaks" scandal as a series of meetings got under way to prepare for a conclave to elect a new pontiff after Pope Benedict's sudden resignation.

Even before the discussions began, the first day was overshadowed by revelations of another scandal, with Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien admitting that he had engaged in sexual misconduct not befitting a priest, archbishop or a person of his position.

Sex scandals will be among the problems that Pope Benedict's successor will have to confront, but a more pressing challenge will be tackling the stories of corruption and intrigue that have emerged after the leaking of hundreds of confidential papal documents over the past year.

My sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal

"If we're going to make a good decision, I'm sure we'll have to have some information on that," South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said on the sidelines of the closed-door meetings.

Asked whether there would have to be a reform of the Roman Curia, the central government of the Catholic Church, Napier said: "That naturally is going to come into the picture as well."

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said: "We want to know what's going on inside the Vatican, which has been a bit knocked about in recent years."

Hundreds of confidential papal documents alleging instances of corruption and intrigue in the administration of the Vatican were leaked to the press last year, causing huge embarrassment.

Pope Benedict's personal butler was convicted in the case, but some Vatican watchers say there may have been a wider conspiracy, and an inquiry by three cardinals into the affair has been kept secret.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi implied that there would be no general discussion on "Vatileaks", saying cardinals could ask fellow cardinals in private "for any information they believe useful".

Spanish Cardinal Carlos Amigo Vallejo, however, played down wider implications from the scandal. "I was a missionary bishop for a long time, and I thought of those small communities in North Africa. I don't think they care a lot about our little internal problems," he said.

The Vatican meetings will set the date for the start of the conclave this month and help identify cardinals who could become the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

"We're going to take as much time as we need to think about what sort of pope the church needs now," French Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said.

"I'd be keen to have a polyglot, a man of faith, a man of dialogue … The new pope will certainly have to confront problems within the Curia," he added.

A total of 115 "cardinal electors" - cardinals aged under 80 - are expected at the conclave after O'Brien opted out due to claims of sexual misconduct with priests and an Indonesian cardinal said he was too sick.

O'Brien had already recused himself from the conclave and resigned as head of the Scottish church after allegations of misconduct surfaced.

"My sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal," he said on Sunday.

As the first talks began, a man dressed in fake ecclesiastical robes, pretending to be a bishop, tried to sneak in and had to be escorted out by Swiss Guards. Wearing a purple scarf around his waist similar to the sashes worn by Catholic prelates, the man chatted with cardinals and gave his opinion on the sex-abuse scandal to journalists before being removed.

No date has yet been set for the election of the church's 266th pope, although Italian media have mentioned next Monday as a possibility.