It’s so very far to Rome…

Several commentators have noted that there are ecclesiological, not to say political aspects behind the decision of when to begin the conclave.

First the cardinals meet for “general congregations” – these are now in progress – and then when the start date is set, the cardinals begin the conclave itself. Pope Benedict XVI gave the cardinals the possibility of starting the conclave sooner than the 15 days foreseen after the death of a pope. Setting a conclave start date is an important first task of the general congregation.

The word on the street is that the curial cardinals in Rome favor an early start date because this gives them more ability to control the process. The Romans (whatever their nationality) know all the cardinals from around the world (from their visits to headquarters) and so are in the best position to orchestrate campaigns for favored candidates. But a later start date allows the cardinals from Everywhere Else to get to know each other better and take charge of the thing.

It’s hard not to think of the politics of the Second Vatican Council, even if the comparison is a bit overwrought. The Romans in the curia prepared reactionary drafts for the Council documents, hoping that the world’s bishops would quickly rubber stamp it all and then go away. But the bishops got organized, rejected the curial drafts, took charge of the Council, and voted in new slates of people to re-write the documents. The rest is history. But as I say, the comparison is overwrought.

Cardinal Sodano (he would be a Roman, big time) has wanted to move the conclave process along, and so he decided there would be two general congregations yesterday on Day 1, one in the morning and one (this sounds funny to Amis but it’s a Roman way of scheduling) at 5:30 pm. Gotta get this thing over and done.

Now I see that the cardinals have decided to hold but one meeting in coming days. What do you suppose they will they do all afternoon and evening? Get to know to each other better? Or go to their rooms and study Roman documents to get a better sense of the curia’s priorities for the next pontificate?

General congregation hasn’t set a start date for the conclave yet. They can’t – not all the cardinal electors are present yet to hold the vote.

I see that the six German cardinals didn’t even make it to Rome for Monday’s morning meeting, but two of the six Germans showed up for the evening session. That leaves four still to arrive. Conclave start date can’t be set until they make it.

What’s taking the Germans? Why are they causing the start date to be delayed? I’m sure it’s because it’s so very far from Germany to Rome, and the mountain passes are treacherous. No?

Meanwhile, Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury has wisely urged the faithful to “take no part” in “punditry” about who the next pope will be: “The days before us surely demand of Catholics not punditry, but prayer!” I see his point. Running the Church, being concerned about the Church’s mission going forward – this is the work of bishops and cardinals, not the rest of us. We should keep our nose out of it and just stick to our prayers. Whose Church is this, anyway? Do go read his comments. Then you might decide not to read this post, or others like it.



  1. According to Rorate, all but one of the German Cardinals (Lehmann) have now arrived:

    The Holy See Press Office confirmed today that, of the 115 Cardinal-Electors who will come to the Conclave, 5 have still not arrived to take part at the General Congregations: Cardinal Lehmann (Mainz), Cardinal Naguib (Alexandria Patriarch Emeritus), Cardinal Nycz (Warsaw), Cardinal Pham Minh Mân (Vietnam), Cardinal Tong Hon (Hong Kong).

    A commentator there notes that His Beatitude Cardinal Naguib may be too ill to participate, having suffered a stroke in 2012 that left him partially paralyzed

    1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #1:

      The Egyptian State Information Service says that H.B. Naguib was planning to travel to Rome today.

      I had read last week, I believe, that he originally was leaning against going because of his health, but changed his mind. He’ll be allowed an assistant because of his condition.

  2. Many of the releases about the cardinals’ meetings and the conclave have been interesting to analyze for their ecclesiology and pneumatology. I don’t think the question is “Whose Church is it?” but “Who is the Church?”
    I heard one of the U.S. cardinals (I think he was from the U.S., may have been another English-speaker) say they were ignoring news reports and outside voices because once the door was sealed, then the Holy Spirit started to work. Note that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work anywhere else, or at any other time.

    1. @Alan Hommerding – comment #3:
      Bishop Davies comments (and yours) remind me of an interview from 1978, I think right before the conclave that elected Albino Luciani as John Paul I. The question had to do with how the Holy Spirit works in electing a new pope, and the answer came back something like this (if I recall correctly):

      “American Cardinals will ponder the issues before the church in their minds, meditate upon the various candidates in their hearts, and silently pray over the one for whom they should vote. Italian Cardinals will gather and discuss the issues before the church over a nice glass of wine, obliquely but quite clearly debate the various candidates over dinner, and verbally wrestle with one another as to which candidate should be elected. The Americans call the Italians “too political” and the Italians call the Americans “too lazy” but they are agreed that this is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

      I don’t know whether this distinction still holds (and from some of the interviews with American cardinals, I doubt it), but the twin pictures of the Holy Spirit at work sound about right to me. I always have to laugh when people try to nail down how and when the Spirit is supposed to work. (See Acts 18, for instance, where Paul had one idea and the Spirit said “uh, no.”)

  3. An article I read this morning started with the cardinals swearing to keep what happens secret, I guess so readers would understand there is nothing much to report. It is like a rain delay in baseball, or 24 hour news coverage, where announcers fill the time by talking. Occasionally enlightening but usually just drawn out and boring – “Cardinal Burke leaves the congregation” only means he went home for the evening. We all wait for the excitement of the baseball game to return, so we can go back to sleep.

    The high tech media savvy cardinals did accomplish one thing yesterday. They sent a TELEGRAM to Benedict XVI. Bravo for new technology!

  4. It seems that I cannot do much more than pray as far as the Conclave is concerned. As a woman, and a feminist Catholic, of course, my prayers are way out of the ball park. Still, I have a couple of weeks to make a pink bubble (no pun intended) to imagine the Pope of my dreams.

  5. Bishop Davies sounds almost Protestant, doesn’t he? Telling people that the pope shouldn’t matter to them, that only their own internal state matters.

      1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #10:

        If the alternative is a “Lay people should blog, tweet, and obsessively surf the news feed for conclave items” 2013 bishop, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

        At least the “pray” part, at any rate. Everyone knows that Catholics don’t tithe.

  6. I’ve given up punditry for Lent. 😉

    But about those German cardinals… If they really delayed in order to delay the opening of the conclave, they’re more foxy than I thought. However, the point of the delay is to let people talk to one another, and if they are not there to mingle… ? Their own meeting was only a short while ago. They may have been detained by business at home.

  7. Interesting. I read +Davies’s comments entirely differently, more along the lines of “forget all the talking heads on TV, what’s most important is praying the Holy Spirit help the cardinals pick the right man for the job.” I think the idea that the laity ought to shut up about it might be reading a bit too much into this – it came off as more of a sound bite about the piety of praying than anything to me.

  8. In response to numbers 3 and 9 above:-

    On whether the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected, Benedict XVI is reported (by J Allen) as having said this in 1997:- “I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidates for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined … There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked.”

  9. Bishop Mark Davies is a ” pray, pay and obey” bishop. His reorganization of his diocesan curia and related diocesan organizations, replacing people, lay and cleric who ask awkward questions, speaks volumes. My family lived in the Shrewsbury diocese for many years, and I was ordained in St. Mary’s Crewe, Cheshire, so we still have links there. The voices from there I have heard recently aren’t happy ones.

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