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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Old-style Vatican secrecy has prevailed over American-style transparency, as Catholic cardinals prepare to elect a new pope.

MONTAGNE: American cardinals canceled their daily briefings, which drew hundreds of news-starved journalists. They stopped talking under pressure from leaders of the church based in Rome.

INSKEEP: Now, this maneuvering is one sign of a confrontation over the future of the church.

MONTAGNE: On one side are Vatican insiders.

INSKEEP: And the other side are cardinals from everywhere else in the world. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Just an hour before the scheduled American briefing, an email announced it had been canceled. In a later terse statement, the spokeswoman for the American delegation, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said the U.S. cardinals are committed to transparency, but because of leaks in the Italian press that breached the cardinals' oath of secrecy, she said cardinals won't be giving interviews.

Father Tom Reese of the National Catholic Reporter says this was a perfect example of a clash of cultures.

THE REV. TOM REESE: The American cardinals are just more used to being open and talking to the press and answering questions in public. Rome doesn't like to operate this way.

POGGIOLI: At the official briefing, Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was asked if the Vatican had put pressure on the American cardinals. His reply, in translation...

THE REV. FEDERICO LOMBARDI: (Through translator) This is a journey that's going on. The cardinals, as they get more into it, realize the importance of keeping things among themselves, out of respect for one another, the seriousness of their discussions, and perhaps came to the decision in that way. That is all we can say.

POGGIOLI: At their briefings, the U.S. cardinals were frank. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo spoke openly about the scandal-plagued Curia, the powerful Vatican administration.

CARDINAL DANIEL DINARDO: We want to know and learn as much as we can relative to governance in the church, and the Curia is part of that issue. So, certainly, we want to discuss and learn what we can. And I think that will go on as long as the cardinals feel they need the information.

POGGIOLI: And Cardinal Francis George dictated one of the key American requirements for papal candidates: A firm crackdown against sexual abuse among priests.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: So, whoever is elected pope, he obviously has to accept the universal code of the church now, which is zero tolerance for anyone who has ever abused a minor child.

POGGIOLI: The Americans feel European cardinals - who have also had to deal with sex abuse scandals - have not learned the lesson from American mishandling. Father Reese says this is a non-negotiable issue.

REESE: If we had a pope who, a week after his election, got up and said: Oh, the sex abuse crisis, that's not important. It's a creation of the media. That would be an absolute disaster for the American church. It would put us back 10, 20 years.

POGGIOLI: American openness with the media was contagious. Italian newspapers were suddenly filled with statements by cardinals from other parts of the world. Jean Poupard of France called for a stronger role for laypeople and women in the church. His colleague Jean-Louis Tauran insisted the cardinals have access to a secret report, commissioned last year by Benedict XVI, on the infamous Vatileaks scandal.

And German Cardinal Walter Kasper insisted that the next pope finally apply the principle of collegiality. And in an interview, he warned of the danger that the retired Pope Benedict would try to influence future church governance.

Vatican spokesman Lombardi acknowledged that many cardinals are asking to be heard in the closed-door sessions. And there were reports that a number of outsiders are asking for the discussions to be prolonged into next week, pushing the start of the conclave further away.

Leaks exposed the strong resistance of the outsiders to the accelerated pace of the discussions favored by the Curia cardinals. The focus is Curia intrigue and dysfunction. And the gag order has had an immediate effect: some of the anonymous sources behind last year's Vatileaks have resurfaced.

One source told the Italian daily La Repubblica: We won't be intimidated. The struggle for transparency within the Vatican continues. In fact, no Vatican watcher has ever believed that the tried and convicted papal butler had acted alone.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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