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Vatican imposes media blackout ahead of papal conclave

An Italian newspaper says Vatican insiders are ready to reveal the church’s secrets.

STEFANO RELLANDINI/REUTERS

A report that more Vatican insiders are ready to spill secrets has brought the so-called Vatileaks scandal back to life, just as cardinals are preparing to elect a new pope.

The revelation, made Thursday in La Repubblica, one of Italy's biggest newspapers, came a day after American cardinals got swept up in the Vatican's obsession with secrecy.

American cardinals had been meeting the press at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, but on Wednesday, an hour before powerful U.S. cardinals Francis George and Timothy Dolan were to appear on statge, the College of Cardinals told the Americans to cancel the events.

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The order came down in the days leading up to the papal conclave, the meeting of cardinals to choose the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who retired on Feb. 28. Its start date is expected to be announced this weekend.

Yet the Americans were never considered to be part of the leak problem. It is Italian newspapers, presumably relying on Italian Vatican sources, that are full of leaks about the pre-conclave meetings. The meetings, known as general congregations, are forums where cardinals make presentations and discuss a variety of topics ranging from the qualities they would like to see in the new pope to Vatican finances.

While most of the leaked information has been rather mundane, La Repubblica on Thursday carried an anonymous interview that asserted that Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted last year of leaking papal correspondence, did not act alone, effectively saying the leaks were part of a wider conspiracy. Mr. Gabriele, who was pardoned by Pope Benedict, became the central figure in the Vatileaks scandal.

The article said at least 20 men and women inside the Vatican are ready to spill secrets in their efforts to promote church transparency.

The Vatican press office on Thursday said the leaks were almost certainly being discussed in the general congregations. Italy's La Stampa newspaper reported that a non-Italian cardinal had asked for information on "two individuals allegedly mentioned in the Vatileaks scandal dossier."

The press office fears the leaks will prevent some cardinals from speaking their minds in the general congregations.

Guessing the identity of the leakers was part of Vatican sport on Thursday. Veteran Vatican watcher and author George Weigel, of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, used his National Review blog to point the finger at "the linguists who do the simultaneous translations [in the congregations], a known source of such leaks in the past."

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Mr. Weigel said shutting down the American cardinals was "boneheaded" because they were a regular and open venue to discuss ideas that could be developed into stories by the mainstream media. Their press conferences were hugely popular with reporters, who got the chance to ask the cardinals, who were under oaths of secrecy, general questions about the papal election process and issues affecting the church.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media director for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and organizer of the cardinals' appearances in Rome, was obviously annoyed that the College of Cardinals scrapped her media agenda. "It's clearly a clash of cultures," she said. "It's the difference in the way the American press works and the Italian press works."

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About the Author
European Columnist

Eric Reguly is the European columnist for The Globe and Mail and is based in Rome. Since 2007, when he moved to Europe, he has primarily covered economic and financial stories, ranging from the euro zone crisis and the bank bailouts to the rise and fall of Russia's oligarchs and the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. More

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