VATICAN CITY Cardinals from around the world have descended on Rome to discuss some of the major problems facing the Catholic Church ahead of the conclave to elect Benedict XVIs successor as pope. Topping the agenda: Vatican scandals, Benedicts remarkable decision to resign and efforts to keep Christianity relevant in todays world.
The first pre-conclave meeting is scheduled today, headed by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He has said the date for the start of the conclave wont be set until all the cardinals are in Rome, meaning a definitive date may not come until mid-week.
The function of the pre-conclave sessions is to discuss core issues facing the church and for the cardinals to get to know one another better both of which are designed to help the 115 voting-age princes of the church choose the right man for the papacy.
This time around, theres one unofficial agenda item that is attracting the most attention: a briefing from the three cardinals who conducted the investigation into the leaks of confidential documents from the popes study.
Italian news reports have been rife with unsourced reports about the purported contents of the cardinals dossier reports which the Vatican has labeled as false.
Even if the reports are off, though, the leaks themselves confirmed a fairly high level of dysfunction within the Vatican bureaucracy, with intrigues, turf battles and allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism at the highest levels of the church hierarchy.
In one of his last audiences before resigning, Benedict met with the three cardinals who prepared the report and decided that their dossier would remain secret. But he gave them the go-ahead to answer cardinals questions about its contents.
What we talk about ... will be certainly the governance of the church and in that context there may be questions to people who did the report, U.S. Cardinal Francis George told reporters. I think we will find out a lot from a lot of sources to figure out what is necessary now to govern the church well here in Rome itself.
The popes ex-butler was convicted by a Vatican court of stealing the papers and giving them to an Italian journalist, though he was later pardoned by Benedict.
Another topic facing the cardinals is the reason theyre here in the first place: Benedicts resignation and its implications. His decision to end 600 years of tradition and retire rather than stay on the job until death has completely altered the concept of the papacy, and cardinals havent shied from weighing in about the implications for the next pope.
Previously, cardinals might have been wary about electing a very young pope, fearing a lengthy papacy. With Benedicts resignation, the field might be open now to a younger pope, or conversely an older one who may serve for a few years and then retire without having his final years play out on the world stage, as was the case with Benedicts predecessor, Pope John Paul II.