Cardinals meet in shadow of scandal, discord and intrigue

VATICAN CITY Fri Mar 1, 2013 11:14am EST

1 of 2. Vatican personnel seal the door of the apartment of Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican February 28, 2013. Pope Benedict ended his difficult reign on Thursday pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history.

Credit: Reuters/Osservatore Romano

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Roman Catholic cardinals gathering to choose a successor to "Pope Emeritus Benedict" will be worrying about a Vatican hierarchy hit by scandals, intrigue and betrayals befitting a Renaissance court.

As well as sexual abuse by priests around the world, the scandals closer to home involve the leak of Benedict's personal papers, media reports of sexual misconduct in the Vatican, wiretapping, bureaucratic bungling and mishaps that many say could have been avoided.

The foreign cardinals who will choose the next pope have been particularly alarmed over the reports and might be inclined to pick someone not connected with the Vatican's Italian-dominated central administration, Vatican insiders say.

"Our people want a holy man to be the pope," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston. "People are looking for a shepherd," said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston.

But in the back of their minds will also be the need to clean up the Curia, the opaque administrative apparatus that runs the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.

SECRET REPORT

In the weeks following Benedict's shock decision to resign, Italian newspapers have run many stories about a secret report prepared for the pope by three cardinals who investigated the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal last year.

Paolo Gabriele, the pope's butler, was convicted of stealing personal papal documents and leaking them to the media. He was jailed and later pardoned by the pope.

The documents alleged corruption in the Vatican and infighting over the running of its bank, which has been at the heart of a series of scandals in past decades.

According to one unsourced report, the secret report also touched on homosexual activity by some Vatican monsignors, leaving them and the Vatican open to blackmail.

The Vatican has accused the Italian media of spreading "false and damaging" reports, condemning some as deplorable attempts to influence the cardinal electors.

But on Thursday, the day the pope resigned, the Vatican acknowledged that some parts of an Italian magazine report about wiretapping in the Vatican were true.

It said "a few" phones had been tapped by magistrates investigating the leaks scandal but that the tapping was not as widespread as the magazine suggested.

The secret report on the leaks was given to Benedict, who decided to make it available only to his successor. But it is expected to be a topic of discussions at pre-conclave meetings that begin on Monday.

One Vatican official said the three elderly cardinals who wrote it "will use their discernment to give any necessary guidance" to fellow cardinals without violating their pact of secrecy about its specific contents.

CURIOUS CARDINALS

But cardinals are very curious about the secret dossier, particularly those from outside Italy who have become lightning rods for people in their dioceses asking questions about media reports of corruption, mismanagement and scandal in the Vatican.

"We will talk about the governance of the Church and in that context there may be questions to the persons who made that report," said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

"They are also under a mandate that has to be respected. I think we will find out enough from a lot of sources to find out what is necessary to govern the church well," he said.

Apart from the scandals, the Curia has been blamed for not protecting the pope from several mishaps and bad decisions, not foreseeing negative reaction to some of his pronouncements and not giving him enough information to make the right decision.

In 2006, it failed to predict the fallout from a papal speech in which Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor equating Islam with violence. That speech led to violent protests among Muslims around the world.

In 2009, the Curia failed to do its homework before the pope let an excommunicated traditionalist bishop, Richard Williamson, be re-admitted to the church. He was a known Holocaust denier and the episode badly damaged ties with Jews around the world.

In a letter to bishops on the fallout of the Williamson affair, the humiliated pope had to admit that his administration did not use the Internet as much as it should.

A centuries-old bureaucracy, the Curia is essential to the success or failure of any pope who has to run the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church.

Its departments deal with everything from the appointment of bishops and marriage annulments to whether parishes thousands of miles away will stay open or close.

Curia officials decide who will be made a saint, which prayers are said at Masses and how contributions coming into the Vatican from the world's faithful are spent.

CURIA LET THE POPE DOWN

Critics such as leading Italian Vatican expert and author Sandro Magister say Benedict put people in positions of administrative power because he knew them and felt comfortable with them rather than for their abilities.

One Vatican official said he believed the Curia "let the pope down" by not preventing many problems. In particular, some Vatican insiders criticize Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict's number two.

"Bertone will probably be remembered as one of the worst secretaries of state in history," one official said, adding that Bertone travelled too much and did not run a tight ship.

Bertone who had no diplomatic experience when he was chosen, and was seen as alienating the monsignors of the career civil service in the Vatican, many of whom owed their allegiance and jobs to his efficient predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Cardinals who will be electing the next pope in the closed-door conclave expected to start in about 10 days say he must have a combination of four qualities: deep faith, sound doctrine, charisma and a capacity to govern.

They acknowledge it is impossible for one man to have all those qualities in equal amounts.

But, according to Vatican sources, they have made it clear that whoever is elected, they will want him to put a good administrative team in place to make sure that the types of mishaps, mismanagement and scandals that dogged Benedict's papacy are not repeated.

(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan; editing by Andrew Roche)