Cardinals Prepare For Conclave To Select New Pope

Cardinals in Rome have been meeting for the past week, discussing the future of the Catholic Church. That culminates with Tuesday's conclave, when the cardinals will meet in secret to choose the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. Renee Montagne speaks with Morning Edition regular contributor Cokie Roberts, who is in Rome covering the selection of the new pope.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Cardinals in Rome have been meeting for a week now, to talk about the future of the Catholic Church. That conversation culminates tomorrow with a conclave, when the cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel to actually vote for who will succeed Benedict XVI as pope.

Hordes of journalists are in the Eternal City, waiting the outcome. That includes commentator Cokie Roberts, and she joins us now. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Buongiorno, Renee.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Buongiorno. That sounds so much nicer.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: All right, so many people find the election of a pope fascinating, even non-Catholics. You know, why do you think that is?

ROBERTS: You know, I put that question to a very longtime observer here, who said to me, look, I'm Irish and I don't like the English, but I watch all the royal weddings and funerals. It's pomp. It's ceremony. And for the Vatican, it's also straight out of the Middle Ages - or at least, the Renaissance; and we don't often get to - a look back in time, like that. So I think there's a lot of fascination. It's also, though - Renee - a little bit like the Olympics. You know, Americans are cheering on their own team of American cardinals.

MONTAGNE: Well, right, of course, although I'm going to guess there aren't - there isn't a huge chance that there will be an American pope.

ROBERTS: No, there isn't. But there is a lot of buzz about it, as you've been reading in the press at home. And as far as I can tell, what that means is that members of the Italian press - who are called Vaticanistas - are talking about American popes. And there is a sense that they know more than anyone else because their stories have details about what's going on in these secret meetings. And those leaks to the Italian press were the excuse for the Vatican shutting down the press conferences that Americans were holding every day, in an attempt to have some tiny bit of transparency in all of these proceedings.

But the Vatican apparently thought that the Americans were running for pope and were getting too much prominence. But there is still talk about a couple of them - mainly, New York's Timothy Dolan and Boston's Sean O'Malley. People who know them scratch their heads a little bit. They say Dolan is hyperactive, with a short attention span; that O'Malley is painfully shy, and gets sick if he sees a camera. There is some long shot talk about D.C.'s Donald Wuerl. He is considered a good manager at a time when the Vatican desperately needs managing.

But still, as you say, very long shot to have an American. If an American were named pope, I think Italy and much of Europe would be absolutely convinced that the CIA was running the Vatican.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Oh, no. Well, I mean, whoever the pope turns out to be, what does this mean for the American church?

ROBERTS: Well, of course, one-quarter of Americans are Catholic. It's a huge population. And of course, if an American were named pope, it would be enormous in terms of understanding what is still considered here, in Rome, the New World. But, you know, no matter which one of these cardinals is picked, I don't think Americans can expect any big changes on the issues where they repeatedly say - in polls - that they disagree with the hierarchy; issues mainly having to do with sexual matters like contraception and abortion, gay marriage, the role of women in the church. All of these cardinals who are voting, are on the same page on those issues. And remember, they were all appointed either by Benedict or John Paul, and those are both conservative pontiffs.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, pleasure to talk to you. Commentator Cokie Roberts, speaking to us from Rome.

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