- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

ROME — Even before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger showed that the crush of the 24-hour news cycle was not going to get in the way of solemn church business.

Last week’s unprecedented decision to quell any pre-conclave press conferences or remarks by the 115 voting cardinals was made by the 78-year-old German cardinal, who headed the College of Cardinals.

However, the cardinals also voted to silence themselves in an effort to avoid pressure, said Archbishop John Foley, the American-born president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

In the 26 years since the last papal election, the emergence of the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet have subjected the cardinals to unprecedented scrutiny, he told reporters last week.

“It has to be secret,” Archbishop Foley said. “[The clampdown on interviews] avoids pressure on the cardinals, which allows them to pray. Don’t you think that when the cardinals get together, they should do so without the glare of TV lights on them?”

A cardinal who spoke to American reporters last week on the condition of anonymity said the church and the press speak “an entirely different language” of deadlines versus divine timing.

“We thought in centuries,” he said. “They think in minutes.”

Monsignor Charles Burns, a Vatican archivist, agreed the cardinals had been ?dissuaded? from granting interviews before the conclave because “sometimes what they say is not picked up accurately.”

Now that the conclave is over, the cardinals still are expected to keep secret the inner workings of how the pope was selected.

“Even their notes are burned,” Monsignor Burns said.

The texts of the two sermon meditations given to the cardinals before they entered the Sistine Chapel on Monday have not been released, as they have in the past.

In the absence of leaks from the cardinals, Italian newspapers ran multiple analyses of the two men who had been considered likely successors to Pope John Paul II: Cardinal Ratzinger and Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. Beginning late Monday, TV stations trained their cameras on the simple chimney sprouting from the Sistine Chapel, where white smoke would show that a pope had been elected.

“The networks have rented every rooftop in existence, I think,” Archbishop Foley said.

The 7,000 journalists covering the papal funeral, conclave and enthronement far outnumber the 1,200 who registered with the Vatican to report on the beatification ceremonies for Mother Teresa in 2003, he said.

Archbishop Foley put a positive spin on the relative pre-conclave silence from the cardinals, reminding reporters that the Vatican press office has come a long way.

“The Vatican has changed a lot, hasn’t it?” he said. From the Vatican press office, “it used to be, “The pope is fine,’ ‘The pope is fine,’ ‘The pope is fine,’ ‘The pope is dead.’”

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