VATICAN CITY (CBSNewYork/AP) – Cardinals from around the world gathered Monday inside the Vatican for their first round of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid scandals inside and out of the Vatican and the continued reverberations of Benedict XVI’s decision to retire.
New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan was among 103 of the 115 electors who arrived at the Vatican Monday morning, while the other dozen were en route, the Vatican said.
As WBBM-TV, CBS 2 Chicago Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reported, most of the cardinals arrived by car, driven past an army of camera crews and reporters. But a few just walked over.
Some simply brushed by reporters, while others were seemed happy to stop and chat.
In all, 142 cardinals were to gather in the Vatican, both those eligible to vote as well as those over 80, who cannot.
The dean of the College of Cardinals has said a date for the conclave won’t be set until all cardinals have arrived.
“That’s my understanding… that all the cardinals have to be here and then a decision can be made,” said Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.
PHOTOS: Cardinals Gather At The Vatican
As CBS News’ Vinita Nair reported, the process of choosing the new pope began with a round of prayers Monday morning.
Dolan is broadcasting daily reports from the Vatican for the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM.
“It was an extraordinarily inspirational and reaffirming venture,” Dolan said in a Monday broadcast. “There’s a sense of resolution. There’s a sense of ‘We’re on our way now to fill the Chair of Peter.’”
Also among the first orders of business was the oath of secrecy each cardinal made, pledging to maintain “rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff.”
“We have to take a very solemn oath, that we take this with the utmost seriousness, that we will not reveal the contents of anything that is spoken about in the general congregations,” Dolan said. “Obviously, we’ll take another one when we go into conclave.”
The College of Cardinals also agreed to send Benedict XVI a message on behalf of the group — the text was being worked on.
The core agenda item is to set the date for the conclave and set in place procedures to prepare for it, including closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors and getting the Vatican hotel cleared out and de-bugged, lest anyone try to listen in on the secret conversations of the cardinals.
These meetings are intended to give cardinals time to discuss the qualities they expect from the new pope.
“The Cardinal Secretary of State said, ‘I presume the best way to go is for is for us to open it up. Who would like to speak?’ And I would say about, I bet you a good eight Cardinals spoke from the heart very honestly, very confidently, very graciously,” Dolan said.
He continued in the broadcast: “You get to know each other a little better, and then you listen to one another. When I’ll see a Cardinal all of a sudden I’ll say, ‘You stayed at my house, didn’t you?’ You can see the wisdom again of the Church’s tradition. What we’re doing now is extraordinarily helpful and enlightening.”
Dolan said the talks did not address when the Papal Conclave would begin, but he predicted that would be the next order of business for the Vatican.
But with not all the cardinals having arrived, that means no vote on the conclave, and no start to preparing the Sistine Chapel, which is still open to visitors until at least Tuesday, Levine reported.
The feeling from two American cardinals — Wuerl and Chicago Archbishop Francis Cardinal George – is that the cardinals want to take their time during these general meetings, giving everyone time to speak about issues and perhaps individuals.
George said there is no deadline and no time clock. But there is a goal for a time to get done.
“We’d like to be done before Holy Week starts; get home to our diocese,” George said.
To do that, a new Pope would have to be inaugurated by about March 20, which means even a moderately short conclave would have to start, if not next Monday as expected, then certainly early next week.
Scandal Clouds Preparations
The first day of discussion was again rocked by revelations of scandal, with Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien admitting that he had engaged in sexual misconduct not befitting a priest, archbishop or cardinal.
O’Brien last week resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and said he wouldn’t participate in the conclave after four men came forward with allegations that he had acted inappropriately with them — the first time a cardinal has stayed away from a conclave because of personal scandal.
“There’s no cardinal with his head in the sand when it comes to these issues,” Dolan said. “The afflictions of the world — sexual immorality, perversion, abuse of children that affects all elements of society and culture, are particularly hideous when it comes to the church. And will that be an issue? I predict it will.”
Separately, the Vatican is still reeling from the fallout of the scandal over leaked papal documents, and the investigation by three cardinals into who was behind it.
Italian news reports have been rife with unsourced reports about the contents of the cardinals’ dossier. Even if the reports are false, as the Vatican maintains, 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.
Another topic facing the cardinals is the reason they’re here in the first place: Benedict’s 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 haven’t shied from weighing in about the implications for the next pope.
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