Catholic Cardinals Meet To Prepare For Election Of New Pope

Roman Catholic cardinals gathered Monday to plan how they will select the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

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The College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church held their first meetings today at the Vatican to prepare to elect the next pope. The gathering got underway in the wake of yet another scandal over clergy sex abuse. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has our story.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The first session of what is called the general congregation began with prayer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: 103 of the 115 cardinals who will vote for the next pope were in attendance. The 12 remaining elector cardinals are expected to arrive by tomorrow. Only when all are present can they agree on what day to start the conclave.

The first order of business today was taking an oath of secrecy, which covers everything connected with the election of a successor to Benedict XVI. But what the Vatican spokesman described to reporters as the open and fraternal atmosphere of the meeting was marred by last night's news from London concerning allegations of sex abuse against Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Vatican spokesman Father Tom Rosica read from a statement in which the cardinal said the anonymous nature of the allegations against him had initially prompted his denial.

FATHER TOM ROSICA: However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.

POGGIOLI: The spokesman said the Vatican would say no more. A few blocks away from St Peter's Square, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, held a briefing of its own. Executive Director David Clohessy said the O'Brien affair sends a strong message to the College of Cardinals.

DAVID CLOHESSY: Cardinal O'Brien is yet the most recent reminder of why it's crucial that they vet one another very carefully on this issue.

POGGIOLI: SNAP is demanding that no cardinal serving in the Roman Curia, the scandal-plagued administration, should be considered a papal candidate.

CLOHESSY: That may sound like a sweeping judgment. It may sound extreme. It may sound harsh. But let's face it, the current system isn't working for children, for victims, for Catholics. You know, it's hard to imagine that a current Vatican insider would have the courage to truly clean house.

POGGIOLI: Never before in recent history has the Catholic Church been beset by so many crises, not only worldwide clerical sex abuse scandals but also leaks that exposed bad governance and corruption within the Vatican Curia. Many cardinals from abroad want to be briefed on a secret report about Vatican mismanagement, commissioned by Benedict XVI that he has left for his successor's eyes alone.

Moreover, Benedict's shock resignation is forcing cardinals to re-assess the nature of the papacy itself. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington says it's crucial that the cardinals have sufficient time to discuss all issues in depth before entering the conclave.

CARDINAL DONALD WUERL: We are going to have to make a decision somewhere along the line when we think the conclave should begin. I think a lot of that is just going to depend on what we hear and how many people have something they want to say and how often they want to say it. And then we'll make our way as we go through that process.

POGGIOLI: Italian media reports suggest that cardinals working within the Vatican are failing in their attempts to speed up the start of the conclave as fast as possible. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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