Reader's Guide -- Day Two

Technician works on a structure set up for TV media in St. Peter's Square at Vatican -- CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters


What windows shall we look through?


In Rome, the city of seven hills, the view is everything, and for so many, a view of St. Peter’s and the Vatican City is of paramount interest. I think of the of Jesuit house steps from St. Peter’s Square, of the North American College, the residence of American seminarians in Rome, a little farther away, but with a hilltop view of the Vatican and the rest of the city.

We who do not live there must rely on well-situated observers and reporters. Among the journalists, those resident in the city and accredited to the Holy See are best placed. To begin with, they speak Italian, which is the lingua franca of church life in Rome. Latin would be nice and can be crucial (Benedict’s announcement at the consistory that he would resign was made in Latin, and I remember Cardinal Bernard Law deciding to make his intervention, jargon for a speech, at a bishops synod at the Vatican in Latin, presumably to show his independence of American culture and media).

In the United States, we stand on the shoulders of the Associated Press coverage of the Vatican. The service has a custom of long-term assignments, which produces reliable reporting, for example by the longtime bureau chief, Victor L. Simpson. While what we may read in any given newspaper may seem perfunctory, since it has been trimmed radically, the original, when you find it, is usually nuanced and reasonably complete. And so, today, the report by Nicole Winfield on the housekeeping details of the pope in retirement, who will be called “emeritus pope,” though my ear prefers pope emeritus, or “emeritus pontiff,” though not emeritus bishop of Rome. And, more, his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, the prefect of the papal household, will live at Benedict’s (new) residence, while, astonishingly, serving the new pontiff when he is elected. And in this age of information access and excess, there are surprises when looking for information on key collaborators, perhaps the most astonishing this gushing look at the papal secretary.

For Catholics and, most of all, Catholic periodicals, that baseline information is provided by the news service of the American bishops, Catholic News Service, which is generous in allowing access.

Catholic publications with resident reporters include the National Catholic Reporter, The Tablet, and the National Catholic Register. There are news services like Zenit (I have read their very orthodox but ambitious work for years) and Catholic News Agency (not to be confused with the service run by the US bishops and apparently a collaboration with the TV network EWTN).

Among general-circulation publications with resident reporters are, for example, The New York Times, the BBC, and, if you have the language Le Monde. But literally thousands of reporters are pouring into the Vatican Press Office, and the count stood at  2,973 early this week, says the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. We will be sorting through the deluge of stories to come in the next few weeks.

If you have the time, there are others who have more experience, connections and background. Browse carefully, but I’m sure you will find interesting Robert Moynihan’s work, particularly his close reading of the La Repubblica article on the secret report on sexual misconduct among prelates and curialists.  My summary: the writer of the newspaper article almost certainly did not have access to the Vatileaks report or to its authors, but probably interviewed those who were relied on by  the papal commission.

Also see Whispers in the Loggia, a blog by Rocco Palmo. It is well tuned in.

There is still no date set for the conclave, but the probable attendance count is down to 115. That may change. Yesterday, I mentioned the pressure on Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, who decided not to go to Rome, and Cardinal Roger Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, who says he will attend. Cardinal William Levada, a longtime American curialist who succeeded Papa Ratzinger at the Congregation for Doctrine and who was archbishop of San Francisco, says he thinks Mahony should attend. Also feeling pressure over his handling of the sexual abuse issue is Cardinal Sean Brady, primate of all Ireland. And, citing failing health and poor eyesight, Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Indonesia says he will not take part in the conclave.

More anon.

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