VATICAN CITY -- A day after the U.S. delegation shut down its popular daily media briefing, the Vatican continued to struggle Thursday to stem the tide of leaks to Italian media, allegedly by cardinals gathered for private meetings ahead of their eagerly anticipated conclave to elect a new pope.
About 150 cardinals have been meeting daily this week at the Vatican to discuss the future of the Roman Catholic Church and to form opinions about possible candidates to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who retired last week.
Despite the prelates’ sworn oath to keep details of the proceedings secret, Italian newspapers have provided daily leaked accounts of which cardinals have spoken and of the reluctance on the part of some to agree on a date for the conclave until they are told more about alleged infighting and mismanagement at the Vatican.
Cardinals had been allowed to give interviews as long as they skirted the details of the meetings, known as general congregations. But that practice came to an end when the cardinals agreed Wednesday to refrain from all contacts with the media.
The decision put a lid on the daily briefings given by cardinals from the United States, leading critics to allege that the ban was aimed primarily at halting the Americans’ bid to bring some transparency to the traditionally secretive Vatican.
Despite the ban, on Thursday there was no sign of the leaks in Italian media drying up. La Stampa alleged that a senior European cardinal had asked to know the names of two lay people reportedly named in a secret report commissioned by Benedict on corruption inside the Vatican. The request was turned down, the report said.
Asked on Thursday if the cardinals might consider further measures to stop the leaks, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, “We count on the responsibility and morality of people.”
Asked if Italian cardinals were fueling the leaks, Lombardi said, “I don’t accept that.”
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. cardinals, drew a contrast between the media culture of Italy and the U.S.
“Our culture is to call a press conference and tell everyone,” she said. Italy, she added, “is a land of leaks.”
Also Thursday, Italian daily La Repubblica published an interview with an unnamed whistle-blower at the Vatican who claimed he had cooperated with Benedict’s butler, who was caught leaking embarrassing papal correspondence in 2012. The man said he was one of 20 such whistle-blowers at large within the Vatican and promised another leak of information about wrongdoing at the Holy See.
Lombardi said Thursday that the last of 115 cardinal electors due in Rome, Vietnam’s Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, was being picked up from the airport, meaning a vote on a start date for the conclave could come as soon as Friday.
After a week in which cardinals have discussed reform of the Vatican’s bureaucracy, cardinals were briefed Thursday about Vatican finances and given an early look at financial reports ahead of their official release in July.