As cardinals start organizing the election of Catholics’ next leader, they want to know more about corruption, cronyism.
VATICAN CITY – Cardinals said Monday they want to talk to Vatican managers about allegations of corruption and cronyism within the top levels of the Catholic Church before they elect the next pope, evidence that a scandal over leaked papal documents is setting up one of the most unpredictable papal elections in recent times.
The Vatican said 103 of the 115 voting-age cardinals attended Monday’s inaugural session of the pre-conclave meetings, at which cardinals organize the election process, discuss the problems of the church and get to know one another before voting.
The red-capped “princes” of the church took an oath of secrecy and decided to write a letter of “greeting and gratitude” to Benedict, whose resignation has thrown the church into turmoil amid a torrent of scandals inside and out of the Vatican.
“I would imagine that, as we move along, there will be questioning of cardinals involved in the governing of the Curia to see what they think has to be changed, and in that context anything can come up,” said U.S. Cardinal Francis George.
The Vatican’s administrative shortcomings were thrust into stark relief last year with the publication of documents stolen from Benedict’s desk that exposed the petty infighting, turf battles and allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church.
The pope’s butler was convicted of stealing the papers and leaking them to a journalist; he eventually received a papal pardon.
The emeritus pope, meanwhile, remained at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary home while the discussions on picking his successor kick into gear in Rome.
No date for enclave
No date has been set yet for the conclave and one may not be decided on officially for a few more days; the dean of the College of Cardinals has said a date won’t be finalized until all the cardinals have arrived.
Speculation has mounted that the conclave might begin around March 11, with the aim of having a new pope installed by March 17, the Sunday before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week.
With 115 electors, 77 votes are needed to reach the two-thirds majority to be elected pope.
Those who were in Rome prayed together Monday, chatted over coffee and took an oath to maintain “rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff.”
The core agenda item is to set the date for the conclave and put in place the procedures to prepare for it, including closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors and getting the Vatican hotel cleared out and swept for bugs or other electronic monitoring devices.
Yet the first day of discussion was rocked by new revelations of scandal after Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien admitted that his “sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
O’Brien last week resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and said he wouldn’t participate in the conclave after four men came forward with allegations that he had acted inappropriately with them — the first time a cardinal has stayed away from a conclave because of personal scandal.
Pressed to respond to reports of a fifth accuser who reportedly approached the Vatican directly in October with accusations, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, read O’Brien’s statement admitting to sexual misconduct and said the Vatican would say no more.