Vatican City: Catholic cardinals on Monday pressed for more information about the “Vatileaks” scandal at the start of a series of Vatican meetings to prepare for a conclave to elect a new pope after Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation.
“If we’re going to make a good decision, I’m sure we’ll have to have some information on that,” South African cardinal Wilfrid Napier told reporters on the sidelines of the meetings.
Asked whether there would have to be a reform of the Roman Curia, the central government of the Catholic Church, Napier said: “That naturally is going to come into the picture as well.”
French cardinal Philippe Barbarin said: “We want to know what’s going on inside the Vatican, which has been a bit knocked about in recent years.”
Hundreds of confidential papal documents alleging instances of corruption and intrigue in the administration of the Vatican were leaked to the press last year, causing huge embarrassment.
Benedict’s personal butler was convicted in the case but some Vatican watchers say there may have been a wider conspiracy and an inquiry by three cardinals into the affair has been kept secret.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi implied there would be no general discussion on “Vatileaks”, saying that cardinals could ask fellow cardinals “for any information they believe useful.”
Spanish cardinal Carlos Amigo Vallejo however played down wider implications from the scandal.
“I was a missionary bishop for a long time and I thought of those small communities in North Africa. I don’t think they care a lot about our little internal problems,” he said.
The Vatican meetings will set the date for the start of the conclave later this month and help identify cardinals who could become the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
“We’re going to take as much time as we need to think about what sort of pope the Church needs now,” French cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said.
“I’d be keen to have a polyglot, a man of faith, a man of dialogue… The new pope will certainly have to confront problems within the Curia.”
The meetings are expected to last all week and are also a rare chance for all the world’s cardinals to get together and to discuss the many different challenges facing the Catholic Church.
“The key themes the Church will have to face are inter-religious issues and poverty,” Vingt-Trois said.
Napier said: “My priorities would be… reconciliation, renewal of the faith so people understand what the faith is about and rebuilding the credibility of the Church.”
Benedict’s eight-year pontificate was often overshadowed by Vatican intrigue and scandals in Europe and North America over sexual abuse by paedophile priests going back decades, and the cover-up of those crimes by senior prelates.
A total of 115 “cardinal electors” — cardinals aged under 80 — are expected at the conclave after Britain’s Keith O’Brien opted out due to allegations of sexual misconduct with priests and an Indonesian cardinal said he was too sick.
Lombardi said 103 cardinal electors were present at Monday’s meeting and the remaining ones were expected to arrive later by Tuesday.
The field for next pope remains wide open after Benedict became only the second pontiff to step down by choice in the Church’s 2,000-year history and the first to do so since the Middle Ages.
Vatican observers say there are possible candidates from every corner of the world and from both progressive and traditionalist wings.
Church leaders are also concerned about issues like how to counter rising secularism, priestly celibacy, treatment of gays, attitudes towards divorcees, as well as inter-religious dialogue.
Indian cardinal Baselios Cleemis, Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, said: “We will work for the well-being not only of the Church but of the whole world. You’ll have to wait and see.”
No date has yet been set for the election of the Church’s 266th pope, although Italian media have mentioned next Monday, March 11 as a possibility.
Among the leading candidates are Italian cardinal Angelo Scola, a big promoter of inter-religious dialogue, and Austrian progressive Christoph Schoenborn, a former student of Benedict’s.
US cardinal Sean O’Malley, who cracked down on abuse in the Boston archdiocese where the scandals began to emerge, and Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, are also seen as possibilities.
In the Americas, Canadian Quebecois cardinal Marc Ouellet, a conservative with ties to Latin America, is also highly rated, as is Brazilian cardinal and Sao Paulo archbishop Odilo Scherer.
In Africa, Ghana’s Peter Turkson, Guinea’s Robert Sarah and Napier are also seen as possibilities.
For Asia, Manila archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, a 55-year-old theologian and pastor is very popular.