Vatican Diary: A New Papacy Begins

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MASTER OF CEREMONIES: Italian Bishop Piero Marini assists the Pope during mass in 2003

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Friday, April 15, 11 pm, Vatican City
Time is getting short, folks. Less than 72 hours until the 115 elector Cardinals will stride into the Sistine Chapel and take a vow to "observe faithfully and scrupulously" the secret and solemn rite for electing the next Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Truly reliable information continues to be scant, but several emerging hypotheses offer an indication of how the voting may go. Though my Cardinal sources have been faithful to their self-imposed press ban, I have continued to talk to a number of Vatican officials and others who are in touch with Cardinals, about the possible scenarios and the viability of different candidates.

At the moment, an initial duel appears to be shaping up between Germany's Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Italy's Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi. The former Archbishop of Munich, who for the past 23 years was Pope John Paul II's doctrinal watchdog, is being promoted by a swath of electors attracted to his traditional views, intellectual acuity and his knowledge of the Roman Curia. Once considered something of a firebrand, he is now seen by many as an ideal pick to carry out a "transitional" papacy after the 26-year reign of Wojtyla. Tomorrow is Ratzinger's birthday: He turns 78. Whether electors believe that is too old, or just old enough, remains to be seen.

Well-placed sources tell TIME's Vatican expert consultant Giancarlo Zizola that the reformist wing of the College of Cardinals came into the pre-conclave period weak and particularly unprepared. And since the surprise momentum of the candidacy of Ratzinger — considered the symbol of the doctrinaire tendencies of the last pontificate — former Milan Archbishop Carlo Maria Martini, 78, has led an effort to scramble for a compromise candidate to oppose the German. Ratzinger as Pope, one source told Zizola, would amount to a "symbolic and institutional registering of the defeat� of the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council. Tettamanzi, who succeeded Martini in Milan, may be the man to stave off a Ratzinger rout in the early balloting. He is seen as a largely conciliatory figure who can talk with both the progressives and traditionalists. Doubts remain, however, about whether Tettamanzi has the mojo to make a formidable pope. The 71-year-old has weak foreign-language skills, and is seen as a somewhat provincial Italian figure.

One source close to Ratzinger, however, says the white-haired cardinal, who gave the homily at John Paul's funeral, is letting his colleagues know that he doesn't want to be an early candidate. If no consensus grows around an alternative, he might then be willing to be a sort of "draft" candidate, the source told me. In the secret balloting that will begin Monday afternoon, a successful candidate must receive more than two-thirds of the votes. Often, if a certain candidate starts to gain more votes through consecutive balloting, he can build the momentum necessary to reach the two-thirds threshold. Assuming that Ratzinger truly is not angling for the job, one lingering question is: Who is his preferred candidate? Three Cardinals who enjoy particular respect from their German colleague are India's Ivan Dias, Mexico City's Norberto Rivera Carrera and Vienna's Christoph Schonborn. An Italian in synch with the German's theology is Angelo Scola of Venice. But in the meantime, Happy Birthday Cardinal Ratzinger!

Thursday, April 14, 11 pm, Vatican City
I still haven't had the "caught-sneaking-inside-the-conclave" dream. But the fitful nights of the past two weeks have nontheless been filled with flashing images of Cardinals dropping folded notes in golden urns, then winking at me, and insiders whispering the name of the man who will emerge once the white smoke clears then snickering. After another busy morning of phone calls trawling for hints on the state of the race for the papacy I found myself briefly alone with an eggplant and mozzarella panino at an outside table at the Bar Gianicolo in Piazzale Aurelio, about a half-mile up the hill from St. Peter's. With the sun warm on my face, I thought I might even manage to clear my mind for a moment of all things Vatican. Fat chance. Approaching from my left, I heard the discrete siren of a one-car police escort, with a dark sedan right behind. As the cars zipped around the curve and under an arch, I could see clearly that the escorted passenger was in fact Camillo Cardinal Ruini. This was not a dream. The powerful Italian Cardinal appeared to be alone, gazing out the car window in my direction. Having just concluded the morning General Congregation session at the Vatican, Ruini was no doubt heading to lunch. By the route he was taking, I guessed his destination might be the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, just down the hill, perhaps to meet with some of the 11 voting American cardinals. But a senior U.S. diplomat confirmed for me that there was no lunch served today. Still, just a bit further down the hill is the residence of the Spanish Ambassador — a perfect spot for Ruini to gather the more than two-dozen or so Spanish-speaking electors. I will never know. But in my next dream, he'll be coming to share a panino with me.

With the Conclave just four days away, the identity of a senior cleric's dining company takes on serious weight. And few are more ready or able to throw weight around now than Ruini. Since 1991, he has been Vicar of Rome, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Roman diocese. The 74-year-old also heads the Italian Bishops Conference. His constant presence on the airwaves in Italy speaking out strongly for Catholic values make him unpopular with many in secular circles who worry about Church-State separation. But he's hardly a glamorous TV star, and talk of Ruini as a papabile is greeted with skepticism. What may be more likely is that Ruini is campaigning for a fellow Italian, or perhaps for a longtime figure in the Roman Curia like Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Several sources have recently mentioned Ruini as a possible Secretary of State in the next pontificate if the next pope is non-Italian. There, his influence would outweigh all but the successor to John Paul II.

Wednesday, April 13, 11 pm, Vatican City
For the past three years, Milan's Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi has been the frontrunner to bring the papacy back to Italy after its 455-year grip on the job was broken by Karol Wojtyla. But another Italian has emerged on most papabili lists over the past year: Angelo Cardinal Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, who offers a more forceful, some would say aggressive, alternative to the affable Tettamanzi. He is considered a die-hard defender of John Paul II's strict line on Church doctrine, and one source notes that the 63-year-old doesn't waste time worrying about pleasing anyone on such matters. If his brother Cardinals perceive too much brusqueness in their meetings this week, it could hurt Scola's chances just as much as his relative youth.

But when I bumped into him this afternoon as he hurried out of an office on the Borgo Santo Spirito just off of St. Peter's Square, Scola flashed a warm smile. He wasn't wearing any of his Cardinal scarlet robes, just a simple black suit and clerical collar, but I recognized him right away by his reddish complexion and burly figure — a bespectacled version of American character actor Brian Denehey. Though an aide tried to shoo me away, I was able to ask Scola how the week was going so far. "Excellent!" he said with what seemed like authentic exuberance. "We are in God's hands." And he was gone with the late afternoon breeze. In the 20th century, the Holy Spirit swept in three Popes from the lagoon city. The most recent, in fact, was the last Italian: Pope:John Paul I.

The former Venice Patriarch Albino Luciani is remembered fondly, though with sorrow, for a papacy that lasted just 33 days before his sudden death.The man who would become John Paul I was little known outside of Venetian and Italian circles before he began to emerge in the days before the first 1978 conclave. If the Cardinals want an Italian, but are divided over Tettamanzi and Scola, they may start to look at alternatives from the bel paese. Names dropped include Cardinal Bertone of Genoa, Cardinal Antonelli of Florence and Cardinal Ruini, the Vicar of Rome. But one of the darkest dark horses — Severino Poletto, 72, of Turin — was touted to me two months ago by a well-placed Vatican insider, who noted Poletto's simple pastoral approach, his working class roots, and the strong local character that is identified with his northwestern region of Piedmont. I have dropped his name to my other sources, and most simply shrug. Today I could see why. He was ambling alone toward a gate guarded by a pair of Swiss Guards. He too was without the Cardinal colors, wearing a short black overcoat over his black suit and clerical collar, with a peaked black woolen cap: looking more like the stooped village pastor in Bernanos' 'Diary of A Country Priest' than a man set to help choose the next pope. My colleague Jordan Bonfante approached him, and asked how he felt this impending conclave compares with the last two. "In 1978," he said, "I was just a parish priest." In other words, far from the intrigue and politicking of Rome. Only in 1980 was he made a bishop, and it took another 21 years to become Cardinal. "And how are you feeling," Jordan asked, "about this Conclave?" At that point Poletto gave a dismissive wave of his hand and returned to his anonymity. At least for now.

Tuesday, April 12, 9pm, Vatican City
What's a reporter to do when the anointed sources are on maximum lock-down? Keep on knockin'. And, at the same time, hustle for other ways to divine what those 115 men in red who will choose the next Pope are thinking and saying and doing behind their shuttered windows. We talk to aides; we talk to bishops; we talk to people who talk to Cardinals. Beyond the Cardinals' self-imposed press blackout during this week leading up to the conclave, we got a piece of bad news earlier today when a dinner arranged for TIME this evening with a source close to a key Italian "kingmaker" cardinal was canceled after he got cold feet. A prominent European cardinal I know has avoided direct contact with me since the Pope's death. Hopefully, those sources will warm up as the week progresses. The Americans may be the hardest to crack. TIME's Midwest bureau chief Marguerite Michaels, who knows how to squeeze information out of tight-lipped Chicago cops and UN diplomats, is politely hounding the U.S. Cardinals. But one well-connected insider said the press ban is weighing heavy on the group of 11 American Cardinals. They are "Boy Scouts," this source said. "In the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, an American will stop at a red light. An Italian thinks, 'What a nice suggestion,' and drives on. Our guys aren't talking."

But whispers already appear to be leaking out to some of the long-time "Vaticanista" correspondents of the major Italian dailies. One early controversy that the Cardinals have been confronting in their daily meetings called General Congregations [which include the Cardinals over 80 who will not enter the Conclave] is how to respond to the popular calls at Pope John Paul II's funeral for a virtually instantaneous beatification that would put him on the fast-track for sainthood. According to Corriere della Sera, a petition circulating amongst Cardinals to hand to the next Pope endorses that call. Apparently not all the Cardinals have signed the petition, and if one of them is elected Pope, he can duly ignore any suggestion that the Cardinals put forth. It's a reminder, of course, that this is not an election for a four-year term of a leader who will have to contend with political pressures from his peers or governmental balance of powers. It is an election of an absolute monarch for a lifetime term. Big stakes indeed—even for Boy Scouts.

One Italian Cardinal worth watching is Carlo Maria Martini, the 78-year-old former Archbishop of Milan, who spends much of his time studying ancient texts in Jerusalem. Martini, a brilliant Jesuit scholar and inarguably holy figure, was once the great white-haired hope of the progressives for a successor to John Paul. Few believe he is still 'papabile'. When I caught up with him after the Pope's funeral, he smiled and shook my hand, but stayed mum. He has, however, been talking during the Cardinals' daily meetings, and Corriere reported today that he was listened to "intently" by his brother Cardinals. An American source of mine doesn't doubt that Martini is a respected voice. "They'll listen to what he has to say, especially among the Italians. But I doubt that they will take it into much consideration. He's no longer a real factor." Perhaps just as telling for how the race is shaping up were conversations that TIME reporter Jordan Bonfante had today with a pair of Jesuits. Both share much with their fellow Jesuit Martini, but conceded that they could live with someone like traditionalist bulwark Joseph Ratzinger as Pope. It's yet another sign that the dream scenario for some progressives in the Church that somehow a Pope will emerge from this Conclave with plans to undo John Paul's doctrinal dictates is doomed to die on the vine. But it's still early in the week, and TIME's team of reporters here will do its best—as always—to confirm that with our sources.

Cardinal Bernard Law celebrates a mourning Mass for the late Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Monday

Monday, April 11, 9pm, Vatican City
The Return of Cardinal Law
You could have termed it "kickin' him upstairs" when former Church heavyweight Bernard Cardinal Law was handed an honorific, but influence-free posting last year after his 2002 resignation from the Boston Archdiocese. Law, who became a symbol of inaction by American bishops in response to repeated cases of priests sexually abusing minors, is now the archpriest at St. Mary Major, one of the four main Basilicas in Rome. It is a largely ceremonial role, far from the influence he once wielded as the single most powerful American Cardinal. Still, unlike corporate culture, in the Catholic Church, ceremony itself can carry real weight. And in his new role, Law was picked to lead this evening's official Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in honor of Pope John Paul II, part of the nine-day mourning period called Novemdiales.

Marguerite Michaels, TIME's Midwest bureau chief who has tracked the pedophile scandal from its early days, has joined our team in Rome to cover the selection of the new pope. She caught up to Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, who was protesting alone Monday afternoon just beyond the border of St. Peter's (protests could not be held on Vatican territory). Blaine showed a small swarm of reporters a half dozen laminated photos of children who were abused by Roman Catholic priests—herself included. SNAP sent a letter to all the American Cardinals to try to keep Law out of a prominent role. "We need the Cardinals to find the courage to break the code of silence in the church's hierarchy, speak out on behalf of children raped by the clergy," Blaine said. "Cardinal Law's saying of this Mass is like rubbing salt into open wounds. He bears ultimate responsibility for the sex abuse scandal."

The ceremony—jam-packed with mostly Italian and Polish mourners, many of whom know little of Law's recent history—went off without any of the disruptions that had been rumored amongst our press colleagues. In fact, Law's command of the altar and agility in Italian and Latin were a reminder that had he not been disgraced back at home, he may have been a potential "kingmaker" in influencing who would be the next pope. [American Cardinals are not considered realistic candidates because the U.S. is too powerful geopolitically.] Even if his American colleagues may not denounce him publicly, like Blaine would like, they will certainly not be following his guidance in the closed-door campaign to elect a new pontiff. Privately, many Cardinals will say that they have lost much credibility in their own dioceses because Law stayed on in Boston long after he should have resigned.

One of Law's most ardent defenders was Mexico City's Norberto Cardinal Rivera Carrera, who notoriously blamed the entire sex abuse scandal on the U.S. media. Rivera was one of just a handful of fellow Cardinals in attendance today at St. Peter's. He is also on most Vatican watchers' short-lists of "papabili" or potential popes. But it remains to be seen whether Rivera could muster key support from the 11-strong bloc of U.S. Cardinals after his remarks about the scandal. Most of the American Cardinals know very well that the sex abuse crisis was fortunately exposed—not caused!—by the American media (most notably the Pulitzer Prize winning team at the Boston Globe). Still, Rivera could always hope for at least one American vote.

Sunday, April 10, 9pm, Vatican City
Even reporters need a day of rest. But read my latest article in TIME magazine: A Brisk Walk With a Cardinal

Nuns and residents are just about all who are left in the rainy St. Peter's Square on Saturday

Saturday, April 9, 9pm, Vatican City
The Mourning After
A chilly rain is falling in Rome the day after John Paul II was buried in the crypt below St. Peter�s Basilica. The world leaders have come and gone. Most of the masses of pilgrims are going home too, boarding trains and buses: south to the Calabrian countryside, north to Milan, farther north and east to Krakow and Wadowice, Poland where Karol Jozef Wojtyla was born nearly 85 years ago. The Eternal City, of course, carries on. But these next two or three days—before the speculation over succession begins to multiply—the forever take-it-as-it-comes Romans may need some time to digest the event that just passed through town, and imagine the ancient city without its most imposing foreign presence. After a week straight of sunshine, that�s what today�s rain seems to be saying.

For those of us who have been covering this story every waking moment for the past 10 days, Saturday is a moment to reflect and recharge. On a professional level, we have just taken part in an unprecedented media event: the final descent of John Paul�s health, the �death watch�, the celebration of his life, the descending crowds of pilgrims and world leaders, a breathtaking funeral, the first murmurings of the race for succession. Most of the top anchors from the TV networks have packed up and gone home. Some will come back for the conclave in eight days. The secret election is sure to make dramatic television: Twice a day, the news networks will again zoom in on St. Peter�s reminding us how much is at stake. The cameraman this time will shift just off to the right of the basilica, where a rudimentary chimney will rise up over the Sistine Chapel�Gentleman, has the jury reached a verdict?

Until the Cardinals are locked away in the conclave, we permanent Rome-based reporters will continue scouring the town in search of clues of which Cardinals are emerging as front runners. The only potential shift registered so far is that Cardinals may be forced to take into account the unprecedented reaction this past week to John Paul II's death, with pilgrims effectively demanding that the successor have at least some of the same kind of personal appeal as Wojtyla. "It diminishes the idea of a transitional Pope," a well-placed Vatican official told me, noting that such candidates as Camillo Ruini and Giovanni Batista Re, who are short on charisma, may be fading from contention. Meanwhile it remains to be seen just how much good (new) information is going to seep out before April 18th.

We will of course be talking to our sources who are willing to meet in private. But TIME reporters also scoped out three different Rome restaurants on Friday where Cardinals often dine. According to all three owners, there hasn�t been a red hat in the house since the Pope�s death. Ristorante Armando, which is a favorite of several powerful Roman Curia Cardinals, has had to settle for priests and bishops this past week. �We haven�t seen any of them,� said owner Armando Desimone, who remembers much more red-hat traffic back in 1978. �And I don�t� think they�ll come. It�s too delicate.� The search continues—though we, too, may have to settle for priests and bishops.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger uses incense to bless the Pope's coffin

Friday, April 8, 9pm, Vatican City
Seeking Clues in a Funeral Oration
The funeral required some nimble footwork from journalists. Many of us wanted to take in the spectacle of millions turning out to bid the Pope farewell, but we also wanted to get a close look at the homily delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — which would have been hard to do with the echoing sound system out in St. Peter's Square. As the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger is widely expected to play a pivotal role in the coming conclave to choose a successor to John Paul II, and is even tipped by some Vatican officials as a potential pontiff himself. So,we were keen to glean hints from his homily about his thinking on the challenges facing the Church. On Good Friday, for example, Ratzinger surprised many with a sharp denunciation of what he called the �filth� in the Church, which he characterized as a boat shipping water from every side. Those comments had been taken as a strong indicator of Ratzinger's desire to tackle what he saw as spiritual corruption and clerical arrogance.

I watched Ratzinger's homily close-up on TV in a room rented by TIME at a hotel just outside the Vatican Walls. It was neither a theological tour de force nor a coded message on the future of the Church. Instead, Ratzinger delivered a simple testament to the life and papacy of John Paul II. Afterwards, we had to hustle through a number of security checkpoints to reach the colonnade alongside St. Peter's Basilica, where we watched as a dozen major duomos carried the simple wooden coffin up the steps of the Basilica. And as they reached the top step, with hundreds of world leaders, senior clerics and millions of faithful looking on, the giant bells of St. Peter's began to toll their final farewell to the Pope.

Among those looking on was President Bush, the first American president to attend a papal funeral. I had been in the Vatican press pool during President Bush's last visit to the Pope in June, 2004 — he had listened intently as the Pope struggled to read a statement praising President Bush's stance on �life� issues but restating the Vatican's opposition to the war in Iraq. John Paul II had a major impact on world affairs in the first two decades of his papacy, but its final chapter found him making a passionate, but ultimately futile call for peace. And that's a reminder that his successor will have to find his own voice in a world dominated by the American superpower.

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