Catholic cardinals in a closed-door meeting ahead of the election of a new pontiff want to be briefed on a secret report into leaks about alleged corruption and mismanagement in the Vatican, a senior source said.
More than 140 cardinals began preliminary meetings to sketch a profile for the next pope following the shock abdication of Pope Benedict the XVI last month and to ponder who among them might be best to lead a church beset by crises.
The meetings, called “general congregations’’, are open to cardinals regardless of age, although only those under 80 will later enter a conclave to elect a pope from among themselves.
The source, a prelate over 80 who was present at Monday’s meetings, said the contents of the report came up during the morning session but declined to say if the requests to be briefed were made in the formal sessions or informal coffee break discussions or both.
“They want to be briefed on the report,’’ said the cardinal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But it is a very long report and technically it is secret’’.
The report was prepared for Benedict, who is now “Pope Emeritus’’, by three elderly cardinals who investigated the so-called “Vatileaks’’ scandal last year.
The three are attending the preliminary meetings but will not enter the conclave.
Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s butler, was convicted of stealing personal papal documents and leaking them to the media.
The documents alleged corruption and infighting over the running of its bank. Gabriele was jailed and later pardoned by Benedict.
Benedict decided to make the report available only to his successor but one Vatican official said the three elderly cardinals who wrote it could “use their discernment to give any necessary guidance’’ to fellow cardinals without violating their pact of secrecy about its specific contents.
At two news conferences on Monday, both the Vatican spokesman and two American cardinals refused to be drawn on the report and whether cardinals had asked to be briefed on it.
Specific matters discussed at the preliminary meetings are covered by secrecy.
“Certainly, there can be various members of the college of cardinals who want information they feel is useful or pertinent to the situation of the curia,’’ spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, referring to the central Vatican administration.
Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George was equally coy when asked if cardinals wanted to be briefed on the report.
“As far as the state of the church in Rome is concerned, I would imagine that as we move along there will be questioning of cardinals involved in the governing of the curia to see what they think has to be changed and in that context anything can come up,’’ George said at a separate news briefing.
Cardinals will be using the meetings this week to get to know each other and decide when to start a conclave to choose a man to lead the 1.2 billion-member church.
The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected next week and officially installed several days later so he can preside over the Holy Week ceremonies starting with Palm Sunday on March 24 and culminating in Easter the following Sunday.
“The thing that is in the back of all our minds, I think, is Holy Week. We’d like it to be done before Holy Week starts, have a pope, and we all go back to our dioceses,’’ George said.
High on the agenda at the general congregations will be the daunting challenges facing the next pontiff, including the sexual abuse crisis in the church and the Vatileaks scandal.
“We need a man of governance, by that I mean a man who is able with the people he chooses to help him in an intimate way to govern the church,’’ Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster in London, told BBC radio.
“Among the things we will be talking about are precisely the need to look for a new pope to deal identified failings or things that have happened and who can address and ensure they are treated in accordance with church rules as well as face the future strongly.’’
The cardinals will hold one or two meetings a day. The date of the conclave will be decided after all the 115 cardinal electors arrive. Twelve still had not arrived by Monday.
It is widely expected to start next week.
The crisis involving sexual abuse of children by priests and inappropriate behaviour among adult clerics continues to haunt the church and has rarely been out of the headlines.
One elector Cardinal Keith O’Brien – quit as Edinburgh archbishop last week and pulled out of attending the conclave because of accusations that he behaved inappropriately with priests and seminarians in the past.
He at first denied the allegations but on Sunday issued a statement apologising that “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal’’.