The College of Cardinals has decided that its members will no longer speak to journalists after several cardinals gave too much information to Italian press.
“Concern was expressed in the general congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ media director.
“As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews,” she added in her March 6 statement to journalists who were hoping to attend a press conference with Cardinals Francis George and Theodore McCarrick.
The American cardinals have been the only ones to organize press conferences during the general congregation phase of the Sede Vacante period.
Before the decision was made to maintain media silence, three press briefings were held at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, attracting outlets from all over the world. Cardinals Donald Wuerl, Daniel DiNardo, Sean O'Malley and Francis George all spoke over the course of three sessions.
But the Italian media was also interviewing cardinals of other nationalities.
Today was the third day of preliminary meetings as the cardinals prepare to vote for a new Pope.
The Holy See press office director, Father Federico Lombardi, said he was not surprised that the American cardinals were offering the press briefings.
“The Americans are well organized, they have a good relationship with the media and so much American media with many people has come here (to Rome),” he said March 6 at the Vatican press office.
“So I’m not surprised the American cardinals have paid attention to communicating with them,” said Fr. Lombardi.
He added that other cardinals, including Germans and Italians, had not organized press conferences because “they’re either not so numerous or not as well organized.”
But Fr. Lombardi stands by the decision of the College, saying, “it’s natural that their discernment progresses into more reflection and more silence,” and during the conclave “there will be absolute silence.”
“The congregations are not a synod or a congress in which we try to report as much information as possible,” he noted.
“They are on a path towards arriving at the decision of electing the Roman pontiff.”
Fr. Lombardi observed that in the beginning “there were moments of openness and communication.”
“Afterwards, in harmony with the rest of the College, it has been established whether and how to communicate,” he said.
The full complement of 115 cardinal electors will be present in Rome by Thursday.
Polish Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw will be arriving later today, and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam will land in Rome on March 7.
Updated at 6:02 p.m. Rome time with comments from Fr. Lombardi througout and more details about background to the decision.