ROME, March 7, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) – As each day passes without a date set by the cardinals for the start of the conclave, the more than 5,000 journalists accredited to the Holy See in the last few weeks are growing more gloomy, bored, and restless. Most of the world’s secular press is represented at what is understood, somewhat vaguely, to be an event of huge importance, but few have a thorough understanding of the nature of what they are covering.
They expected exciting press conferences with bona fide cardinals who would talk about the substance of their discussions. They expected, at the very least, regular bulletins issued by the Holy See Press Office giving updates on the progress of the deliberations. Or at the very, very least they were looking forward to a fascinating give and take between cardinals and “experts” on the issues, the positions of various factions, their priorities and expectations.
What they’ve had is Fr. Frederico Lombardi telling them again and again in response to questions, “I’m sorry, we have no information about that.” Throughout the week, with the official media center set up by the Vatican being a highly restricted area, with Wi-Fi and cell phone access shut down except on the provided computers, most journalists have been relegated to watching the press briefings piped in through closed circuit TV cameras from a separate building. Permits are required to set up a tripod anywhere around St. Peter’s and the Vatican, and even carrying a hand-held camera and too obviously interviewing passers-by will sometimes earn a rebuke from the Vatican Gendarmes.
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But media people are not accustomed to these kinds of restrictions, or the closed-mouthed approach of the Vatican. They didn’t expect to hear about oaths of secrecy, threats of excommunication for people talking to the press. They didn’t expect to be asked for €500 for permission to upload video content and e-mail it overseas. This just isn’t how the rest of the world behaves towards them. In the rest of the world, they are courted, and plied with dinners, drinks, and juicy bits of information in equal amounts.
Meanwhile, the Pontifical North American College was giving the real thing. Actual cardinals were sitting down and answering questions from anyone with press credentials. Journalists were flocking in, at least from the English-speaking groups, excited by the more open approach. But the “American show” was halted yesterday, reportedly by the American cardinals themselves, over fear of leaks.
In the last few years, the Vatican has become acutely conscious of the problems created by a combination of loose lips and a voracious, lightning-fast, intensely hostile global media. Yesterday at the daily scheduled press briefing, Fr. Lombardi said that a conclave is not the same as a synod or a conference where the goal is sharing information with the world.
He said, “The cardinals journey toward conclave is not a convention or synod. It is a journey, that is above all a time of reflection for the College of Cardinals. The College has decided to maintain reserve over proceedings. But we are trying to give as much information as possible.”
So, perhaps for the first time in their professional lives, the denizens of the secular media aren’t having everything their own way. And that, all by itself, should be a cheering thought. Another is the fact that, because there is really nothing at all left for them to do, the denizens are being forced, perhaps also for the first time in their professional lives, to pay attention to religious matters purely as religious matters.
Yesterday, the cardinals met in St. Peter’s Basilica to pray. There was no press conference, no statement, no juicy tidbit or hints of scandals, politics, or maneuvering. Just a large marble room full of believers asking God for help. If the Holy Spirit, the ultimate multitasker, is looking to bring good out of all this for the Church and the world, there’s a bit of it already, right there.