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Roman Curia vs. American Cardinals: Increasing Divisions, Culture Clash At Vatican

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The first general congregation of the day failed to come up with a date for the conclave, as father Federico Lombardi, spokesperson for the press office of the Holy See, explained to journalists today. The cardinals will be getting together again this afternoon, from 5 to 9 p.m. All except one of the 115 electoral cardinals have reached Rome. The only absent cardinal -- Vietnamese Pham Minn-Ma -- is expected to land this afternoon at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

After yesterday’s media maelstrom, when parallel press conferences organized by the American cardinals were abruptly cancelled, it has become increasingly clear that inside Paolo VI Hall, where the general congregations are held, the mood feels dire. The delayed decision to set a date for the conclave is simply further proof. Compared to the past few days, the atmosphere has soured significantly: cardinals rush past, their faces dark, ignoring the journalists and photographers waiting around outside.

The rift that has opened between the press and the Holy See appears insurmountable.

Today new “ravens” and anonymous sources have cropped up all over the newspapers, starting with Italian paper La Repubblica. In an interview, one of these “ex-ravens” -- referred to as “Maria source” -- talked to the daily about the Vatileaks case. According to the source, the leak regarding a presumed gay lobby and financial issues connected with the Institute of Works for Religion (IWR), was deliberately ordered by “women and men, both secular and prelates” from high spheres. The objective of these individuals, according to the anonymous source, is to protect the pope and bring the truth to light.

“Ravens” and anonymous sources.

In order to understand the origins of Vatileak it is necessary to take a step back in time. Things began approximately two years ago, when the pope decided to attempt to normalize and control the Holy See’s economic activities with the help of monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano; as well as promote efforts at fiscal transparency entrusted to the president of the IWR, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. Viganò’s work was obstructed because it was considered “damaging to a certain balance within those institutions that were to be inspected.” As a result, a lobby was created inside the Vatican. It was at this point that the “ravens” decided to start telling outsiders about what was going on inside the curia. All of this “for the pope’s wellbeing,” in order for his decision to resign not to be interpreted as a defeat, but as a challenge.

Culture Clash.

As the International Herald Tribune reports today, what is unfolding at the Vatican can best be considered a “culture clash.” The U.S. cardinals acquiesced to the College of Cardinal’s more or less explicit request to refrain from talking to the press. However, reading the official press release published today by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, head of the press office for the conference of U.S. cardinals, it is immediately clear just how perturbed the cardinals have become because of the request: “The U.S cardinals are committed to transparency and have been pleased to share a process-related overview of their work with members of the media and with the public, in order to inform while ensuring the confidentiality of the General Congregations.”

This, therefore, is the pervading spirit among the U.S. cardinals (11 in total), who starting today will honor the request for silence by the Curia Romana.

Different journalistic traditions.

According to the U.S. delegation, the news leaked in Italian newspapers that has made the Holy See so furious didn’t depend on the public press conferences the U.S. cardinals have organized at the North American College on Gianicolo hill, where very little of the private discussions between the more than 150 cardinals emerged. The undesirable leaks – as the International Herald Tribune reports today -- are rather a result of Italian cardinals secretly willing to talk to the newspapers they trust. And behind all this lies an enormous difference in journalistic practices and traditions: for American newspapers the use of anonymous sources represents an exception, or at least an option to use carefully and judicially; in Italian papers the practice is widely accepted and arguably abused.

Today, in what may well prove to be the last interview allowed prior to the election of a new pope, the Roman newspaper Il Messaggero has published a dialogue with Charles Joseph Chaput, the archbishop of Philadelphia (and not an electoral member of the conclave). “The next pope,” stated the archbishop, “will be called upon to clean up Vatican bureaucracy from the bottom up. This is an onerous task, and one that will require energies that Benedict XVI no longer possessed.”

This piece has been translated from Italian and originally appeared on HuffPost Italy.

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