VATICAN CITY (AP) — The two American cardinals sat on the stage, microphones in hand, fielding questions from the world’s news media on everything from the delayed arrival of some of their colleagues to their own wardrobe choices if elected pope.
Most experts doubt the upcoming conclave will select an American pope, but the U.S. cardinals are already exerting a surprising amount of control over the message — simply by talking. Their lively daily briefings contrast sharply with the sober summaries from the Vatican spokesman and almost nothing from anyone else.
More than 100 journalists and two dozen television crews from the U.S., Britain, France, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and Italy showed up Tuesday, packing an auditorium for what has become the daily ‘‘American Show’’ at the North American College, the U.S. seminary just up the hill from the Vatican.
Cardinals Daniel Di Nardo of Galveston-Houston and Sean O'Malley of Boston held court, gamely trying to answer questions about when the conclave will begin, why five voting-age cardinals still hadn’t shown up and whether they'd all be home in time for Holy Week — all without violating their oath of secrecy about the closed-door deliberations.
‘‘I don’t think I can get into anything in particular about what happened in any of the congregations today,’’ Di Nardo began.
He then delivered a message that several American cardinals have repeated in recent days, responding to questions about whether the problems in the administration of the Holy See were weighing on the deliberations about who might next be pope.
‘‘Obviously we want to know and learn as much as we can relative to governance in the church,’’ Di Nardo said. ‘‘The Curia (Vatican bureaucracy) is part of that issue. Certainly we want to discuss and learn what we can, and I think that will go on as long as cardinals feel we need the information.’’
It’s a message that has made headlines, simply because it’s one of the few coming out.
‘‘Yes, the American cardinals, by being willing to speak, have filled the media void,’’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of ‘‘Inside the Vatican,’’ a how-to guide about the Vatican bureaucracy.
But, he noted, the message is also old. ‘‘People have been calling for the reform of the Curia since Vatican II.’’
Di Nardo and O'Malley drew laughs when one reporter asked O'Malley, a member of the Capuchin order, if he would continue to wear his trademark brown robes if elected pope.
‘‘I've worn this uniform for over 40 years and I presume I will wear it until I die,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t expect to be elected pope, so I don’t expect to have to change.’’
At the Vatican, meanwhile, spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi presided over a more sedate affair, showing a videotape of the three silver and brass flying-saucer-shaped urns into which the cardinals will cast ballots during the conclave, and updating reporters on the whereabouts of the five MIA cardinals.
‘‘Everyone knows how to evaluate his commitments,’’ Lombardi said when asked what the cardinals could possibly have on their agendas that was more important than being in Rome for the election of a pope. ‘‘They know they have the obligation and commitment to come for the conclave, and they know the congregations have begun and are making their plans to arrive.’’
Those still making their way to Rome were Egyptian Patriarch Antonios Naguib, and Cardinals Karl Lehmann of Germany, Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, Kazimierz Nycz of Poland and John Tong Hon of Hong Kong.
Naguib and Lehmann reportedly arrived later Tuesday, while Nycz had to preside over a conference of bishops at home and told reporters in Warsaw he'd be in Rome by Wednesday. The Asian cardinals, Tong and Man were either en route or scheduled to leave later Wednesday, their offices said. Asked why they were late arriving for such an important meeting, the offices said the men were busy handling domestic matters.
Lombardi also announced that the Sistine Chapel had closed to visitors — one of the first signs that the election was nearing. Workers in the coming days will install a raised false floor to cover anti-bugging devices, as well as hook up the stove where the ballots will be burned.
When asked if he had considered inviting cardinals to his briefings, Lombardi said he thought about it and decided against it.
‘‘The conclave and the path towards it ... is an election that each member makes in his conscience before God,’’ he said in an email. ‘‘That requires a reflection by the college as a group that can develop and mature in total freedom.’’Continued...