Roman Catholic cardinals gathered unexpectedly at the Vatican Tuesday to prepare to choose a new pope, announcing that they would be holding a prayer service the following day at 5 PM Rome time.
All the Catholic faithful were invited to join in the prayer, carried live on TV and radio network EWTN.
Held at St. Peter’s Basilica – built in honor of the Apostle the Church reveres as the first pope, who, according to tradition, is buried below it – on Wednesday, March 6, the service began with a rosary recited chiefly in Latin, with all the cardinals participating.
Following that was an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, in which a consecrated Communion wafer – which, to Catholics, represents the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ under the form of bread – is placed in an elaborate holder, or monstrance. The cardinals then spent a period of time praying and meditating in Adoration, sitting in what Catholics believe is the presence of Christ.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the Basilica, then recited Vespers, the evening prayers of the Church. Finally he offered a benediction to close the gathering.
The College of Cardinals was still awaiting the arrival of two more of its number. It has also expressed a wish to take the time for the members to become better acquainted and more familiar with all the issues that will face the new pontiff.
These deliberations will continue in greater secrecy, since the Congregation reacted to leaks in Italian newspapers by discontinuing daily press briefings. Previously, three briefings were held at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, arranged by American cardinals.
But since the Italian media was also interviewing cardinals from other nations, it is not known whether the leaks came from the media-savvy Americans.
As quoted by the Catholic News Agency, Father Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press office director, said, “it’s natural that their discernment progresses into more reflection and more silence.”
He added, “The congregations are not a synod or a congress in which we try to report as much information as possible.”
All the 115 cardinal-electors are expected to be in Rome by Thursday, March 7, with the arrivals of Polish Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Also on Wednesday, the ever-helpful New York Times published a poll it conducted with CBS News that said American Catholics would like to see the Church change its teachings on issues like contraception, women’s ordination, and married priests.
Anyone who has followed the fierce religious liberty debate between the American Church and the Obama administration is aware that the ban on artificial contraception is not going anywhere.
Apparently, no one taught these Catholics that fundamental teachings such as the ones cited in the poll are not up to a vote of the faithful. There may one day be some movement on married priests, as it is a Church discipline and not part of Catholic doctrine, but that decision would come down from the Holy See, not from some sort of public vote.
One thing that may shock those nattering on about how the Church needs a pope that will toss aside these teachings is that the new pontiff is very likely to be a faithful Roman Catholic. He may reform the Church’s procedures or structure in some areas, but there is zero chance that he’ll be a Protestant, an agnostic, or an atheist – or a popularly elected official guided by the latest poll numbers.
That does not stop many dissenting Catholics from persisting in thinking they belong to a democratic organization. It also does leave one to wonder why they simply don’t leave the Church and join one of the more than 40,000 other Christian denominations out there, whose doctrines may suit them better.
That is just the issue debated on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” by the show’s host and guest Penn Jillette, the illusionist and avowed atheist. Apparently, Jillette has a clearer understanding of the basic theology and philosophy underpinning the Church than does Morgan, who seems to have issues with most of the major teachings of the faith to which he still claims to adhere.
Jillette said to the visibly flummoxed Morgan, “I think I may be somebody who believes in the pope’s position more than most Catholics. I really take people at their word. And it seems like all of the cynicism and all of the – who are we going to get in, modernizing – there’s not supposed to be modernizing. It’s supposed to be the Word of God.”