No date chosen for voting to begin on selection of pope

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VATICAN CITY -- The silent video, reminiscent of 8 mm home movies of the 1960s, showed a gardener hoeing a plot of earth, as if rooting out spent plants and preparing for spring.

But the garden was at the Vatican, where workers destroyed a floral rendition of the papal shield of Pope Benedict XVI one week after his abdication.

"So that is removed, waiting for the new pope," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Canadian priest providing English and French summaries for the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. Father Lombardi showed the video to reporters during a news conference Thursday.

No date has been chosen to begin voting for Pope Benedict's successor in the Sistine Chapel. But the last of 115 electors was expected to have arrived Thursday from Vietnam, shortly after Father Lombardi addressed the media.

According to Father Lombardi, who attends the cardinals' meetings and is permitted to give vague summaries, 13 cardinals gave short talks on topics that included relationships with other Christian traditions and the Catholic church's charitable work and efforts to help the poor. There are no designated themes, and each of the 152 cardinals -- including dozens who are over the age of 80 and ineligible to vote -- could speak on anything they chose.

"The discussion continued in terms of identifying or coming up with a profile of the next pope, [of] what are the talents required," Father Rosica said.

Father Lombardi shot down some of the latest rumors, including that the papal liturgist had booked St. Peter's Basilica for a Mass to open the conclave on Monday afternoon. That authority rests with the cardinals, Father Lombardi said, but any priest can reserve an altar at the basilica to say a private Mass for the election of a new pope.

If no date for the conclave is chosen today, the cardinals have the right to continue working through the weekend, although on Sunday "one would hope they would celebrate Mass," Father Rosica said.

Many people don't understand that the highly ritualized election in the Sistine Chapel is held in prayer and silence, not debate, he said.

"This is the period of discussions," Father Rosica said of their meetings. "There is no desire on the part of the dean of the College of Cardinals to anticipate or ... rush the whole event. This is the time for reflection. When that reflection and discernment has been matured, the date will be established."

Reporters continued to lob questions at Father Lombardi about why the American cardinals were pressured to stop their daily news conferences Wednesday when it appeared to be Italian cardinals who were giving confidential information to the media.

"Why are the American cardinals doing penance for the sins of the Italian cardinals?" Reuters correspondent Philip Pulella asked.

Father Lombardi indicated that he had no interest in wading into a trans-Atlantic ecclesiastical feud. "If someone knows who leaked the information ... it would be good to tell us or to make it known to others," he said.

He said that no vote had been taken among all the cardinals regarding whether to speak to the media, as it was for a media blackout before the 2005 conclave. He gave no direct answer to a question about who among the cardinals had spoken to the Americans and caused them to halt their news conferences.

Father Lombardi dismissed as "completely false" a report on a conservative American Catholic news website that claimed that the names of all cardinals who had violated their oath of secrecy had been read aloud in the general congregation.

In other matters, the cardinals heard a report on the economic condition of the Vatican City State and sent a message of condolence to the government of Venezuela on the death of President Hugo Chavez. Normally the pope sends a condolence telegram any time a head of state dies.

The cardinals also drew lots for three new cardinals to serve as an executive committee for Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, in the pre-conclave meetings. The three change every three days.

The first three had all spent many years as important Vatican officials. Those chosen Thursday were diverse. They included Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cardinal Velasio DePaolis, a former head of Economic Affairs of the Holy See and the man Pope Benedict chose to oversee a cleanup of the Legionaries of Christ after a sexual and financial scandal.

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Ann Rodgers: or 412-263-1416.


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