Monday, March 04, 2013

And They're Off

The General Congregation having opened at 9.30 this morning, the first daily gathering of all the cardinals – over-80s included – is set to run 'til 1.30. After a break for lunch and riposo, an unusual evening session will start at 5.30.

As of last hearing, an announcement on a Conclave start-date is deemed likely to not emerge today. Under the norms of the 11th-hour motu proprio which now allows the college to ditch the standard 15-day waiting period from the moment a vacancy is triggered, all participating cardinal-electors must be present before the body can debate and eventually set the timetable by a majority vote. 

While it's unclear whether this interregnum will follow the last one in seeing an interview "blackout" agreed to by the cardinals until the election begins, in a first, an official briefing on the morning meeting is expected this afternoon. 

(SVILUPPO: At the briefing following the first session, it was disclosed that 12 electors still have yet to arrive, including three of the influential, four-member German delegation. Ergo, as expected, no Conclave date can be decided until tomorrow at the earliest, or whenever all 115 expected voters are duly on-hand.)

Outside a handful of pool photographers permitted inside for a few minutes at each session's start, the media is traditionally excluded from the meetings that govern the church in the sede vacante, which are held in the Synod Hall – the same room where, with an eye to his succession, B16 convoked the daylong study sessions before each of his consistories, that the Pope's "Senate" might begin to have a better working knowledge of each other than was the case in 2005.

That said, a full fifth of the electorate – 24 cardinals in all – were only elevated over the last year, and many of them are still learning their way around the bunch.

Beyond that, even if some rough sketches are shaking around at the edges, all everybody knows is that nobody knows. Along those lines, though, it bears reminding that – at least, most of the time – these days do have their way of being determinative toward the final result.   

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While the GenCong sits, the confluence of the Big Story, the vacuum of information surrounding it and over 4,000 accredited journalists on-site has set the (least?) perfect stage for last week's other major curveball to erupt for a second global news-cycle.

Six days after his resignation was rapidly accepted by a departing Benedict amid accusations of sexual misconduct levied by several men, Scotland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien changed course yesterday and issued a statement "to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."

Britain's lone cardinal of voting age, O'Brien had already announced that he was recusing himself from the Conclave, becoming the first papal elector to do so in recent times for reasons other than health. 

In the wake of the 24 February report by London's Observer newspaper airing claims of inappropriate advances by O'Brien toward three priests and a former cleric, the cardinal initially sought to contest the accounts and was said to be taking legal advice. (On a significant point of context, the UK's libel laws are considerably more stringent than those in the US.)

By contrast, he said yesterday that "I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic church in Scotland."

"To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness," he said. "To the Catholic church and people of Scotland, I also apologize."

Just before the cardinal's latest statement, a follow-up piece in last weekend's Observer – the Sunday edition of the liberal Guardian – provided more details about the four men who came forward, one of whom said that while he "never wanted to 'out' Keith just for being gay... he has hurt others, probably worse, than he affected me. And that only became clear a few weeks ago."

Despite reports from Britain that O'Brien faces a "Vatican investigation" over the misconduct, a probe of the sort is almost surely unable to be put into motion at this time as the Roman Curia's faculties are significantly limited due to the sede vacante, during which all heads of dicasteries lose their posts pending their reconfirmation by the next Pope. 

What's more, unless the cardinal is alleged to have abused a minor or vulnerable adult or possessed child pornography in violation of the governing norms on delicta graviora – the updated 2010 rules on "grave crimes" against the sacraments, which now include sex-abuse – the behavior at issue wouldn't appear actionable for a CDF inquest.