Yesterday Cardinal Pell was reported in the Australian as calling on the Vatican Press Office to respond “in some constructive way” to the reports of a web of blackmail, corruption and homosexual sex inside the Vatican. He was right.
But instead the response is neither to confirm or deny the reports, and to attack the media for daring to raise any questions about the election at all!
Unfortunately this kind of line just confirms all of our views about the weakness of Vatican media management, and the need for major internal reforms!
The basic response, set out in a Communique from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone that the stories are calumny or detraction on the part of people out to get the Church, and the media should just keep quiet:
"It is deplorable that, as we draw closer to the moment that the Conclave will begin and the Cardinal electors will be held—in conscience and before God—to freely express their choice, there is a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable, or even completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions."
It is true that the latest claims about corruption and homosexual infiltration of the Curia seem to be unverified.
But whether or not they are in fact included in the report to the Pope on the Vatileaks scandal as has been claimed, there is absolutely nothing new about such claims, nor, on the face of it, are they entirely unfounded.
And if they are indeed untrue, why has the Vatican announced that it will neither confirm or deny them?!
Moreover, the calls for certain Cardinals to sit out the conclave are not based on mere speculation, but on police and court actions and diocesan documents
Are Catholics entitled to have a view on who should be Pope and express it?
Cardinal Bertone also dismisses assorted commentaries on who should be Pope on the grounds that they constitute attempt to pressure the Cardinals:
"Over the course of the centuries, Cardinals have had to face many forms of pressures, exerted upon individual electors or upon the College of Cardinals itself, that sought to influence their decisions, following a political or worldly logic.
If in the past the so-called powers, i.e., States, sought to influence the election of the Pope, today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion, which is often based on judgements that do not capture the typically spiritual aspect of this moment that the Church is living."
It is true of course that some of the secular outlets have their own agendas.
All the same, I think that the Cardinal electors are entitled to hear what Catholics think about the state of the Church, and thus what is needed, as well as on some of the possible candidates. Indeed, canon law itself enshrines the right of the faithful to express their views on these kind of subjects.
There is, in my view, a big difference between expressing an opinion, which the Cardinals can choose to accept or reject, and attempting to improperly influence a vote.
Cardinals under pressure
The real issue at stake here is whether some of the Cardinals really are able to make a free choice of candidate, or whether they will feel impelled to vote someone either because they have been blackmailed to do so, or fear what action a particular candidate might take against them if elected.
To take an extreme case, will a Mahony or Daneels vote for a candidate who promises to depose and degrade all bishops who mishandled the abuse crisis? I think not!
Will a curial Cardinal who fears he may be sacked by a new broom vote for such a candidate? Well, not knowingly anyway (though there have been papal candidates in the past who perhaps concealed their true agendas in the interest of getting elected and then proceeded to do the job that was needed!).
And that is why those Cardinals who no longer meet the requirements of that office - that is, are not 'truly outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters' as Canon 251 of the Code provides - should be encouraged and allowed to stay at home.
A duty to vote?
Fr Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office has been quoted as saying Cardinals have a duty to vote. In saying that he is simply repeating the terms of Pope John Paul II's Universi Dominici Gregis, which sets out the rules around the Conclave:
"All the Cardinal electors, convoked for the election of the new Pope by the Cardinal Dean, or by another Cardinal in his name, are required, in virtue of holy obedience, to obey the announcement of convocation and to proceed to the place designated for this purpose..."
I'm not a canonist but it seems to me that there are perhaps five ways around this provision.
First, it is possible that Pope Benedict XVI will do a last minute amendment to this on the timing of the Conclave - he could also provide an out for certain Cardinals. That is pretty unlikely though.
Secondly, although again extremely unlikely, it is not too late for the Cardinals concerned to resign their office with the consent of the current Pope - or be deposed from Office. Given the defiance expressed by Cardinal Mahony, however, the first course seems unlikely (though stranger things have been known to happen), and surely Pope Benedict XVI would already have acted if he intended to.
Thirdly, a Cardinal can be excused by reason of 'sickness or some other grave impediment' (para 38). The College of Cardinals has to recognize the case though, and given the noise coming out of the Vatican, perhaps that is unlikely.
The fourth possibility is for a Cardinal to refuse to enter the Conclave, or having entered, leave without proper excuse (para 40), in which case the remaining Cardinal electors are free to proceed without him. The virtue of 'holy obedience' hardly applies, after all, to one who has so violated his office as pastor as some seem to have.
And the final possibility is for divine action.
Whatever way things go, there is one part of Cardinal Bertone's statement that we can perhaps all agree on, and that is that we should be:
"...praying for Pope Benedict, praying that the Holy Spirit might enlighten the College of Cardinals, and praying for the future Pope, confident that the future of the barque of Peter is in God's hands."