Thursday, February 28, 2013



"I'm No Longer the Pope, Now I'm Just A Pilgrim"

[English translation:]

Thank you – thank you from my heart!

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, that I can see the Creator's beauty around us, and all the goodness you've given to me – thank you for your friendship and your affection!

You know that this day of mine hasn't been like those before. I'm no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church – at least, at 8 o'clock I won't be – now I'm just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth.

With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer and all my strength – with everything in me – I'd like to work for the common good of the church and all humanity. I feel your kindness so much.

Let us always move together toward the Lord for the good of the church and of the world. Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] – with all my heart, I give you my blessing….

Thank you and goodnight!



In Sede Vacante

At this hour – 2000 Vatican time, 28 February 2013 – the Chair of Peter, the Holy See of Rome, is vacant upon the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

So now, let us pray for the common good of the church – most of all, for those who will lead us into these days to come, and their wisdom in discerning our road ahead....


"...and as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight."


Il Congedo

Lest anybody missed it, here's the film....


"The Church Is Awakening Again"

Using B16's morning line from Romano Guardini as its lede, as the Pope prepares to depart the Vatican on this Resignation Day, here's the historic cover on today's edition of L'Osservatore Romano.

Come 8pm in Rome, like every other organ of the Holy See, the Papal Paper will be topped by the ombrellino for the duration of the sede vacante.


"Among Us Is the New Pope... To Whom I Pledge My Obedience"

Breaking from the plans released by the Vatican over recent days, B16 delivered a final word to the 140-some cardinals gathered to farewell the departing Pope this morning, six hours before he leaves the Apostolic Palace to begin his retirement.

Much as a final scripted message wasn't foreseen, the 265th Roman pontiff's rationale to give a last talk before becoming "Pope-emeritus" became clear at the message's end, as Benedict XVI told the group charged with electing his successor that, "even today," he pledged "my unconditional reverence and obedience" to the next holder of Peter's chair – the first to have a living predecessor since the 15th century.

Here in full, Vatican Radio's English translation of the text:
Dear beloved brothers,

I welcome you all with great joy and cordially greet each one of you. I thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano [dean of the college], who as always, has been able to convey the sentiments of the College, Cor ad cor loquitur [heart speaking to heart]. Thank you, Your Eminence, from my heart.

And referring to the disciples of Emmaus, I would like to say to you all that it has also been a joy for me to walk with you over the years in light of the presence of the Risen Lord. As I said yesterday, in front of thousands of people who filled St. Peter's Square, your closeness, your advice, have been a great help to me in my ministry. In these 8 years we have experienced in faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the Churches’ journey along with times when clouds have darkened the sky. We have tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love which is the soul of our ministry. We have gifted hope that comes from Christ alone, and which alone can illuminate our path. Together we can thank the Lord who has helped us grow in communion, to pray to together, to help you to continue to grow in this deep unity so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal Church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord. I would like to leave you with a simple thought that is close to my heart, a thought on the Church, Her mystery, which is for all of us, we can say, the reason and the passion of our lives. I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini’s, written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen Gentium, his last with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me.

Guardini says: "The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ. "

This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday. This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: "The Church is awakening in souls." The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places. Let us remain united, dear brothers, to this mystery, in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and all humanity. This is our joy that no one can take from us.

Prior to bidding farewell to each of you personally, I want to tell you that I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you may all be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new Pope. May the Lord show you what is willed by Him. And among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope, to whom, here to today, I already promise my unconditional reverence and obedience. For all this, with affection and gratitude, I cordially impart upon you my Apostolic Blessing.
As previously noted, Benedict will depart the Vatican by chopper just before 5pm Rome time, and is expected to greet those on hand at Castel Gandolfo from the villa's balcony shortly after his arrival.

Around three hours later, at 8pm, the Swiss Guard detail guarding Benedict there will leave, marking the sede vacante and the lack of a Pope.

At the same time, in keeping with centuries of tradition, the papal apartment will be sealed until the next pontiff takes possession of it.

Beyond the red hats, roughly a score of other key Vatican aides were on hand for this morning's last goodbye. 

Almost all the others having left the room after making their individual farewells to Benedict, only a handful of monsignori remained as – for one last time in his "home" of the last eight years – the Pope was given the cane he's used sporadically over the last year, and quietly shuffled away from sight.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Twilight of B16

In light of this pontificate's Last Word, for those of us who've witnessed every turn of these last eight years as it happened, this morning's "farewell" message of Benedict XVI bears several conspicuous resonances to an earlier, off-the-cuff talk from the now-retiring Pope, and likely shares even more of his mind than he gave earlier today.

To commemorate his predecessor's famous "moonlight" appearance on the night Vatican II opened, last 11 October saw B16 address a candlelight vigil marking the Council's 50th anniversary and the launch of the global church's Year of Faith.

Tonight, in what's been termed "the most significant event" to rock the Catholic world since Blessed John XXIII called the Council in January 1959, the church faces the twilight of a pontificate under unprecedented circumstances – a Pope's departure from Peter's Chair in life for the first time since, among other things, the "New" St Peter's Basilica was built.

Ergo, even if the following didn't get its due attention the first time around, well, let's try it again....

[English translation:]
Good evening to all of you and thank you for coming! Many thanks as well to Catholic Action for having organized tonight's vigil.

Fifty years ago tonight, I, too, was in this square, with my eyes turned toward this window, as the Good Pope, Pope John, spoke to us those unforgettable words – full of poetry, of goodness, words from his heart. We were all happy that night and full of enthusiasm – the great ecumenical council had begun, and we were sure of a new springtime for the church, a new Pentecost with a new presence of the liberating grace of the Gospel.

We're happy today, too – we should carry joy in our hearts. I would say, however, that our joy is a more sober one, something more humble. Over these fifty years, we have learned and experienced that original sin exists, and that it translates itself into personal sins which can become structures of sin. We have seen that even in the Lord's field there is discord, that even in the net of Peter we find bad fish, that human weakness is present even in the church, that the ship of the church journeys in the face of an opposing wind, amid storms that threaten the ship. And sometimes we have thought that 'the Lord is asleep and has forgotten us.' But this is only one part of the experience of these fifty years. We've also been made to experience the presence of the Lord, the gifts of his goodness and strength.

The fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of Christ is never one that devours nor a destructive one. It's a quiet fire, a small flame of goodness, of goodness and truth, that transforms with its light and warmth.
We have seen that the Lord doesn't forget us – even today, his way is humble. The Lord is present, he gives warmth to our hearts, shows us life, creates charisms of goodness and charity that shine in our world, which are for us a guarantee of the goodness of God. 
Yes, Christ lives with us today and we can be happy because, even now, his goodness remains and is strong. And finally, I dare to make my own the unforgettable words of Pope John: 'When you go home, give your children a kiss and tell them that it's from the Pope.' 
With this sense from my whole heart, let me give you my blessing....
Goodnight to you all – thank you! 
Yet as an emotional last 24 hours of these incredible eight years now dawns upon us, even this can't be the last word.


"Dear Friends, God Guides His Church!" – On Resignation Eve, The Pope's Last Word

Before a crowd estimated at as many as 200,000, this morning's General Audience saw Benedict XVI's final public event before the first papal resignation since 1294 takes effect at 8pm Rome time tomorrow.

On a cold, but brightly sunny morning, the Popemobile wended around St Peter's Square in one last trip for the departing pontiff to greet the masses in attendance, stopping even today to continue Benedict's longtime practice of giving a kiss and blessing to the babies and toddlers passed over the crowd by attendees. 

After arriving at the platform on the Sagrato – the steps to St Peter's Basilica – the pontiff broke from both his academic's personality and his policy of the last few weeks in delivering an emotional, introspective "farewell address," during which he laid out his thought process in making the unprecedented decision to leave office.

Sitting to Benedict's right, several cardinals – some 60 of whom have already arrived for the transition – were seen in tears during the speech. 

Seeking to keep his messages focused on the faith as opposed to himself, until today, Benedict has referred to his departure almost entirely in passing since announcing the move on February 11th. His final public Mass took place in the basilica two days later, as the church marked Ash Wednesday, and in an Italian interview yesterday the former papal theologian Cardinal Georges Cottier said the pontiff specifically timed the handover to take place amid the penitential atmosphere of Lent.

Usually held inside the 7,000-seat Paul VI (Nervi) Hall during Roman Winter, today's audience was moved outside given the anticipated size of the crowd. Given to freezing easily, even if his cassock was covered by the full-length the white grecca (overcoat), a white sweater was visible through the Pope's sleeve. 

Fullvideo of the event is available on-demand through the Vatican's HD player; Benedict arrives at the 41-minute mark.

With the last open event now behind, all that remains on the Pope's schedule is tomorrow morning's thank-you visit with the College of Cardinals before Benedict choppers off into his retirement at 5pm Rome time, three hours before the sede vacante is triggered and Joseph Ratzinger becomes "His Holiness Benedict XVI, The Pope-emeritus" – a styling said to have been his own request.

Above all, though, here's the fullvideo... 

...and, below, Vatican Radio's English translation of the audience talk – seven years, ten months and nine days since his election, the closing word of B16's ministry as the 265th Pope.

*   *   *
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood!
Distinguished Authorities!
Dear brothers and sisters!

Thank you for coming in such large numbers to this last General Audience of my pontificate. 

[Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am truly moved, and in you I see the church is alive! And I think we owe a word of thanks to the Creator for this beautiful weather that he gives us; the sun is here, even in wintertime!]

Like the Apostle Paul in the biblical text that we have heard, I feel in my heart the paramount duty to thank God, who guides the Church and makes her grow: who sows His Word and thus nourishes the faith in His people. At this moment my spirit reaches out to embrace the whole Church throughout the world, and I thank God for the “news” that in these years of Petrine ministry I have been able to receive regarding the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity that circulates in the body of the Church – charity that makes the Church to live in love – and of the hope that opens for us the way towards the fullness of life, and directs us towards the heavenly homeland.

I feel I [ought to] carry everyone in prayer, in a present that is God’s, where I recall every meeting, every voyage, every pastoral visit. I gather everyone and every thing in prayerful recollection, in order to entrust them to the Lord: in order that we might have full knowledge of His will, with every wisdom and spiritual understanding, and in order that we might comport ourselves in a manner that is worthy of Him, of His, bearing fruit in every good work (cf. Col 1:9-10).

At this time, I have within myself a great trust [in God], because I know – all of us know – that the Gospel’s word of truth is the strength of the Church: it is her life. The Gospel purifies and renews: it bears fruit wherever the community of believers hears and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my faith, this is my joy.

When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, [2005], I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that You place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel His presence. [These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of ​​Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been - and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His - and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

We are in the Year of Faith, which I desired in order to strengthen our own faith in God in a context that seems to push faith more and more toward the margins of life. I would like to invite everyone to renew firm trust in the Lord. I would like that we all, entrust ourselves as children to the arms of God, and rest assured that those arms support us and us to walk every day, even in times of struggle. I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave His Son for us and showed us His boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. In a beautiful prayer to be recited daily in the morning says, “I adore you, my God, I love you with all my heart. I thank You for having created me, for having made me a Christian.” Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith: it is the most precious good, that no one can take from us! Let us thank God for this every day, with prayer and with a coherent Christian life. God loves us, but He also expects that we love Him!

At this time, however, it is not only God, whom I desire to thank. A Pope is not alone in guiding St. Peter’s barque, even if it is his first responsibility – and I have not ever felt myself alone in bearing either the joys or the weight of the Petrine ministry. The Lord has placed next to me many people, who, with generosity and love for God and the Church, have helped me and been close to me. First of all you, dear Brother Cardinals: your wisdom, your counsels, your friendship, were all precious to me. My collaborators, starting with my Secretary of State, who accompanied me faithfully over the years, the Secretariat of State and the whole Roman Curia, as well as all those who, in various areas, give their service to the Holy See: the many faces which never emerge, but remain in the background, in silence, in their daily commitment, with a spirit of faith and humility. They have been for me a sure and reliable support. A special thought [goes] to the Church of Rome, my diocese! I can not forget the Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, the consecrated persons and the entire People of God: in pastoral visits, in public encounters, at Audiences, in traveling, I have always received great care and deep affection; I also loved each and every one, without exception, with that pastoral charity which is the heart of every shepherd, especially the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Every day I carried each of you in my prayers, with the father's heart.

I wish my greetings and my thanks to reach everyone: the heart of a Pope expands to [embrace] the whole world. I would like to express my gratitude to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, which makes present the great family of nations. Here I also think of all those who work for good communication, whom I thank for their important service.

At this point I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many people throughout the whole world, who, in recent weeks have sent me moving tokens of concern, friendship and prayer. Yes, the Pope is never alone: now I experience this [truth] again in a way so great as to touch my very heart. The Pope belongs to everyone, and so many people feel very close to him. It’s true that I receive letters from the world's greatest figures - from the Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.

In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God with insistence in prayer to enlighten me with His light to make me take the right decision – not for my sake, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its severity and also its novelty, but with a deep peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not one’s own.

Here allow me to return once again to April 19, 2005. The gravity of the decision was precisely in the fact that from that moment on I was committed always and forever by the Lord. Always – he, who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of the private sphere. I have felt, and I feel even in this very moment, that one receives one’s life precisely when he offers it as a gift. I said before that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and are fond of him, that the Pope has truly brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels safe in the embrace of their communion, because he no longer belongs to himself, but he belongs to all and all are truly his own.

The “always” is also a “forever” - there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.

I thank each and every one of you for the respect and understanding with which you have welcomed this important decision. I continue to accompany the Church on her way through prayer and reflection, with the dedication to the Lord and to His Bride, which I have hitherto tried to live daily and that I would live forever. I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to so important a task, and for the new Successor of Peter, that the Lord might accompany him with the light and the power of His Spirit.

Let us invoke the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, that she might accompany each of us and the whole ecclesial community: to her we entrust ourselves, with deep trust.

Dear friends! God guides His Church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the Church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that He does not abandon us, that He is near to us and that He surrounds us with His love. Thank you!

*    *    *
Following the main catechesis, in the usual summaries of his talk given in different languages for the pilgrimage-groups in attendance, Benedict delivered this as his last word in English:
I offer a warm and affectionate greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors who have joined me for this, my last General Audience. Like Saint Paul, whose words we heard earlier, my heart is filled with thanksgiving to God who ever watches over his Church and her growth in faith and love, and I embrace all of you with joy and gratitude. During this Year of Faith, we have been called to renew our joyful trust in the Lord’s presence in our lives and in the life of the Church.  
I am personally grateful for his unfailing love and guidance in the eight years since I accepted his call to serve as the Successor of Peter. I am also deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world. The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s Church. I will continue to accompany the Church with my prayers, and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new Pope. 
In union with Mary and all the saints, let us entrust ourselves in faith and hope to God, who continues to watch over our lives and to guide the journey of the Church and our world along the paths of history. I commend all of you, with great affection, to his loving care, asking him to strengthen you in the hope which opens our hearts to the fullness of life that he alone can give. To you and your families, I impart my blessing. Thank you! 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

His Holiness, The Pope-Emeritus

Giving an official word to one of the imminent post-papacy's most-sought questions, at today's transition briefing, the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi finally confirmed that, upon his resignation Thursday evening, Papa Ratzi will be known as "His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope-Emeritus," and retain the signature clothing of the pontiff's office.

While the consensus of the Italian press initially veered toward the designation of "Bishop-emeritus of Rome" – and some even held that Joseph Ratzinger would be made to ditch the white, or that the now-announced title was somehow "impossible" – well....

According to the early wires, Lombardi said that in retirement, Benedict's future vesture will lack the shoulder-cape of the standard white house cassock. Even that, however, is nothing the departing pontiff will mind a bit – in the early days of his pontificate, B16 sought to introduce the use of a cape-less fillettata, but the Vatican handlers he inherited were unable to countenance its everyday use. Over the years since, the Pope has used the simple white cassock whenever he's been allowed to do so, most often on his summer holidays, as seen above.

At the same time today, it was also confirmed today that – keeping with the rites scripted over centuries to mark a papal vacancy – the Fisherman's Ring with which Benedict was invested on his 2005 election (its casting a departure from the past) will indeed be destroyed to symbolize the end of this pontiff's authority and, per tradition, protect against any potential forgeries of documents.

As noted when the now-announced title first emerged, no modern precedent existed for the status, titles and prerogatives of an ex-Pope. 

Accordingly, Benedict's wishes now set the standard for the reality into which, so it's been said, he's long felt the "duty" to usher the office that oversees the 1.2 billion-member church.

Before things get any more crazed – and, brace yourselves, they will – the reminder's in order that these pages keep coming your way solely by means of reader support.

Honestly, folks, it'd be all too easy to start griping about the nuts-and-bolts... but would you rather have more pitch or more news?

Thanks as always – if nothing else, please keep the prayers up... and, well, back at it. 



Monday, February 25, 2013

From San Francisco, The Inquisitor Speaks

Benedict XVI's first major appointee as Pope – Joseph Ratzinger's choice to succeed himself as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – as well as the first cardinal created in this pontificate, not until earlier today did we hear from the highest-ranking American in Vatican history: the now-retired Cardinal William Levada, who returned to San Francisco after leaving the helm of the historic "Holy Office of the Inquisition" last July....

YouTubed in six parts – and including a discussion of Vegas odds and Levada's 11th hour move on the leadership group representing most of the nation's women religious just before his retirement – the full presser is available here. 

The first impressions of the other Stateside electors were previously relayed in the wake of the resignation announcement.

While the US' delegation of 11 cardinal-electors is of a standard size for recent years – identical in number to the 2005 group – the "split" of the bunch is historic: an unprecedented four of the American electors (alongside Levada, Cardinals Raymond Burke, Edwin O'Brien and James Harvey) were given their red hats not at the helm of dioceses on these shores, but as holders of offices in the Roman Curia or other Rome-based posts. For purposes of context, last time, the diocesan-Curial split was 8-3. 

As noted earlier, however, thanks to an unprecedented level of churn in the ranks over his eight-year pontificate, Benedict has named fully eight of the voters in this Conclave's second-largest national bloc. But don't expect them to be voting together – as the colorful history shared by Wuerl and Burke has returned as a popular reference-point, the US group is looking set to at least initially split up between the likely Latin America/Third World bloc and one or another of the rival Italian factions. 

In other words, much as the world beyond can't get enough of talking "candidacies" that don't exist, at this stage, the matter at hand is far more rudimentary – namely, the shaping of the coalitions which, in time, will begin to reach that point. 

More on that in due course.


Cardinals Get Green-Light For Quick Conclave

In a motu proprio released this morning – three days before his resignation takes effect – B16 has given the College of Cardinals the ability to derogate from the usual 15-day waiting period to begin the next Conclave, but only on the condition that all of the cardinal-electors are present and a majority consent to proceeding on an expedited timetable.

As previously noted, a papal election's start-date can only be decided upon by the cardinals gathered in General Congregation after the vacancy is triggered. While almost all of the cardinals are expected to be in Rome to take part in the pontiff's sendoff on Thursday, only once the vacancy occurs can the body be formally convoked, so even the date of the first of the pre-electoral meetings remains to emerge.

In light of the unique circumstances of Benedict's departure from the papacy, the likelihood of an exemption from the usual waiting period was indicated here on 12 February, a day after Benedict announced his intent to relinquish the papacy; the preparation of the document released today first emerged on the 16th. 

In recent days, several key members of the College – including Cardinals Francis George of Chicago, Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris and Timothy Dolan of New York – have publicly voiced opposition to beginning the Conclave before March 15th, the earliest permitted date under the rules of Universi Domenici Gregis, John Paul II's 1996 constitution on the papal succession.

While an earlier option has been deemed in some quarters as a play into the hands of the Roman Curia, it likewise addresses concerns expressed elsewhere over the conflict a papal transition on the normal time-frame would present with Holy Week – the period when the bulk of the cardinals who lead the world's dioceses have their most intense and high-profile obligations of the year at home. 

In any event, the pre-Conclave period as stipulated until now has been a fairly recent innovation to the process. By tradition, the wait before the first ballot was a mere 10 days until 1922, when the three North American cardinals – who left for Rome by steamship quickly upon learning of the death of Pope Benedict XV – only arrived once Pope Pius XI had been elected. Shortly thereafter, the new pontiff extended the mandatory period to 15 days to allow the far-flung cardinals the needed time to arrive, with a maximum option of 20 days as necessary.

Likewise including minor clarifications on other points, the new document – titled Normas Nonnullas – was only issued by the Holy See in Latin and Italian.


Hit By Scandal, A Cardinal Falls – And Bails On Conclave

Following allegations of "inappropriate behavior" – sexual advances reported by several men – dating to both his time as a seminary rector and archbishop of Scotland's capital through the 1980s, Great Britain's lone cardinal-elector has resigned less than a month before reaching the retirement age of 75.

At Roman Noon, Pope Benedict yanked Cardinal Keith O'Brien as archbishop of St Andrew's and Edinburgh three days before the pontiff's own departure from office is to take effect.

After three priests and a former cleric lodged allegations against Scotland's longtime top prelate a week before Benedict's resignation, the story broke into public view late Saturday with a piece in the London-based Observer, a liberal paper. In response, a statement issued in the cardinal's name said he was contesting the claims and seeking legal advice. 

According to early reports now, however, beyond his resignation O'Brien – who scored earlier headlines over the weekend with comments favoring optional celibacy for priests – will not participate in the Conclave.

Should the Scot not attend, Great Britain would lack a representative in a papal election for the first time since 1963, when England's primatial see at Westminster was vacant. Only six years later did Scotland receive its first resident cardinal since the Reformation – O'Brien's predecessor, Cardinal Norman Gray. Since then, the home of the North's single red hat has alternated between the archdioceses of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Born in Northern Ireland, the now-cardinal oversaw a minor seminary at the time of the first of the reported incidents, the same post he held on his 1985 appointment as head of Edinburgh's 115,000-member church. 

Long viewed as an outspoken progressive, O'Brien was unusually ordered to make a public Profession of Faith by the Vatican before his 2003 elevation to the College, while already a cardinal-designate. In recent years, however, the cardinal has become a leading voice against the growing British movement toward same-sex marriage.

Following late last week's announcement that the Indonesian Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja SJ is unable to travel to Rome due to failing eyesight, with the Scot's absence the number of electors in the coming process would fall to 115. 

While cardinals are normally mandated to come to Rome to participate in the election unless prevented for exceptional cases of ill health, it appears that no attempt will be made to force a reversal of O'Brien's recusal from the process. 

The sudden storm over the Scots prelate has coincided with a heated round of controversy in the Italian press over the presence of Cardinal Roger Mahony at the Conclave following the recent release of documents implicating a cover-up of sex-abuse by the retired LA prelate.

Set to turn 77 on Wednesday, Mahony doesn't just remain an elector but, by seniority in the College, will lead the 11-member US delegation in the Sistine Chapel – the Conclave's second-largest bloc after the 28 votes from Italy. 

Shortly before the cardinal sat for a weekend deposition in an abuse case, a statement released from the US' largest diocese said that Mahony "will travel to Rome to fulfill his sacred duty under church law to vote for the next Pope." 

Judging by the latest post on his blog – datelined "Vatican City" – it seems he's already arrived.

SVILUPPO: At a Vatican briefing, the papal spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, said that O'Brien's resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict a week ago, on 18 February. 

The Holy See declined further comment.

In his own statement, meanwhile, O'Brien confirmed that "I will not be joining" the other cardinals for the Conclave. 

"I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me — but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his Successor," the cardinal said.  

"However, I will pray with them and for them that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they will make the correct choice for the future good of the church." 

Without mentioning the allegations, O'Brien said that "Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended."

An apostolic administrator will be named to temporarily govern the Edinburgh church until the cardinal's successor is named by the next Pope.


See You in September... 2015

Nearly nine months since B16 chose Philadelphia to host the church's next World Meeting of Families, this morning's finally seen a Vatican announcement that the event will be held from 22-25 September 2015.

As the now-departing pontiff spoke of his intent to come for the gathering, the presiding honors now fall to his successor on what's likely to be the next Pope's first American trip. 

Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. will hold a local press conference on today's announcement later this morning – in the meanwhile, here's today's statement from the Pontifical Council for the Family:
On June 3, 2012, at the Closing Mass of the VII World Meeting of Families in Milan, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, announced to a congregation of approximately one million Catholic faithful that the next international gathering of families would take place in the city of Philadelphia in the year 2015.

Subsequently, in a letter dated January 11, 2013, the Secretary of State officially confirmed that the actual dates for this VIII World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia will be September 22-27, 2015.

In acknowledging the enthusiastic welcome of this news by His Excellency, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, the Honorable Thomas W. Corbett, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Honorable Michael A. Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia, and indeed, by people of good will throughout Pennsylvania, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, His Excellency Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, takes this opportunity to express his heartfelt gratitude.  At the same time, he assures them of his full support as they prepare for this exciting event, which will bring together many thousands of families from around North America and the world to celebrate the good news of the "gospel of the family."

Vatican City, February 25, 2013
For the record, no venues in the host-city have yet been decided upon – the triennial event's first edition in North America is being envisioned as being significantly smaller than its predecessor last summer in Milan, where the closing Mass drew over a million people.


The Curtain Falls

And so, here we are – all of a sudden, the End of a Pontificate.

Even if the out-of-town cardinals begin arriving today for the epic month ahead, the first part of the week will remain fairly normal despite B16's impending resignation. As the remaining deck of approved appointments and other moves are quickly being published before Thursday's effective date on the Pope's departure, only at Wednesday's last General Audience will the public markers of the moment continue.

Set to begin at the usual 10.30am – all times Rome – Joseph Ratzinger's last appearance as pontiff has been moved outside to accommodate a crowd expected to pack St Peter's Square, led by the throng of red-hats. 

Unlike the Sunday Angelus' usual focus on that weekend's Gospel, Benedict's audiences have had a wider berth of topics, with the 20-minute talks mostly clustered into series dedicated to particular subjects ranging from the doctors of the church to the liturgical seasons or recaps of his foreign trips. Despite having begun a new series on the Creed prior to his 11 February announcement, the penultimate Wednesday gathering was dedicated to Lent, and the topic for the final session remains to be seen.

Whatever it is, it will be this Pope's last public word; all the rest is just silence and images. 

On Departure Day itself, the 11am gathering with the cardinals in the Sala Clementina – the state room where a deceased pontiff's lying in-state traditionally begins – will feature no closing speech (which, in some parts, would inevitably be construed as "marching orders" for the Conclave), simply Benedict's private, individual words of thanks to the members of his "Senate," practically all of whom are expected to be in Rome by then.

Though earlier buzz had tipped the possibility that the retiring Pope might create three more voting cardinals to bring the College to its 120-elector maximum, the event's announcement by the prefecture of the Papal Household as opposed to the Office for Papal Liturgical Celebrations appears to preclude a surprise of the sort. On another front, meanwhile, it remains unclear whether the tradition Benedict's kept on his major milestones since his 2005 election – a lunch with the cardinals present for the occasion – will occur in this instance.

In any event, the most dramatic moments of all come just before dusk. As laid out by the Vatican, at 5pm Thursday, accompanied by his secretary, the recently-named Household chief Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Pope is slated to exit the Apostolic Palace, where he'll be seen off by his deputy for most of the last two decades – Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, now both Camerlengo and Secretary of State – on leaving the San Damaso courtyard by car, bound for the Vatican helipad. There, the Cardinal-Dean Angelo Sodano will bid the last farewell before the chopper takes off for Benedict's beloved Castel Gandolfo, where he's expected to stay until his new residence behind the city-state's walls (a former convent) is completed sometime around May.

On arriving at the papacy's answer to "Camp David" or "Chequers," a delegation is expected to welcome the pontiff in the waning minutes of his eight-year reign. At 8pm, the resignation takes effect and the See of Rome falls vacant.

From that hour – at which the heads of all Curia offices immediately lose their posts – the church's temporary, mostly limited oversight falls to the College of Cardinals led by Sodano, who will have to "summon" the group (even if, in reality, most will already be on-hand) to begin the daily General Congregations which, among other matters, will determine the date of the Conclave and hear reports from two distinguished clerics on the state and needs of the church in this time with an eye to the election. 

As the Dean has no authority to act until the vacancy is triggered, as of press time, current expectations tip the congregations to begin on Friday. Who's likely to be chosen to deliver the pre-Conclave reports is currently unknown.

Elsewhere, another variable that's still to be announced concerns the plans for one of the better-known rites of a Petrine vacancy: the sealing of the papal apartment – a vestige of the times when Rome's citizenry would loot the Pope's residence after his death, and the need to secure the place from imposters or usurpers. 

For purposes of context, the close-up didn't occur for some ten days following the death of John Paul II. Especially given Benedict's preparations to step down, however – not to mention the 20,000-volume library he brought with him to the Apostolic Palace – it is notable that no moving vans have been spotted just yet.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

"The Lord Calls Me Up the Mountain" – At Peter's Window, The Farewell Begins

Keeping his focus as ever on the Sunday Gospel – in this case, the account of the Transfiguration – even on his last weekly turn at his study window, here's the Vatican's English translation of B16's final noonday Angelus (fullvideo above)....
Dear brothers and sisters – thank you for your affection!

On the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy always presents us with the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The evangelist Luke places particular emphasis on the fact that Jesus was transfigured as he prayed: his is a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John , the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master (Luke 5:10, 8.51, 9.28).

The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection (9:22), offers his disciples a foretaste of his glory. And even in the Transfiguration, as in baptism, we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father, "This is my Son, the Chosen One listen to him" (9:35). The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, it is highly significant: the whole history of the Alliance is focused on Him, the Christ, who accomplishes a new "exodus" (9:31) , not to the promised land as in the time of Moses, but to Heaven. Peter’s words: "Master, it is good that we are here" (9.33) represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience. St. Augustine says: "[Peter] ... on the mountain ... had Christ as the food of the soul. Why should he come down to return to the labours and pains, while up there he was full of feelings of holy love for God that inspired in him a holy conduct? "(Sermon 78.3).

We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. "The Christian life - I wrote in my Message for Lent - consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love "(n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to "climb the mountain", to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.
Four days until his resignation takes effect, before departing his perch for the last time the 265th Pope offered one parting word to a crowd that jammed St Peter's Square and flowed out into the streets beyond....

"In preghiamo siamo siempre vicini!" – "In prayer, we are always close to each other!"

As the schedule stands, just one public word remains: at the Wednesday General Audience. 

According to the parameters released by the Holy See Press Office, the departing pontiff's meeting to the cardinals present in Rome the following day, hours before the vacancy occurs, will consist solely of individual words with each "prince of the church" – on Benedict's last day as Pope, no speech is slated to be given.


"Where There Is Faith, There Is Freedom"

As B16 prepares to give the first of his last two public words as Pope, a special milestone bears recalling on this Sunday.

Eight years ago today, having previously declined 23 years of requests to serve as papal legate to some or another event in the wider church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ascended the steep pulpit of the Milan Duomo (above) to deliver the homily that – in the eyes of many – served as the sudden kick-start of his path to the papacy.

The event was an especially significant one for the then-CDF prefect – the funeral for Msgr Luigi Giussani, the legendary founder of the global Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation) movement, to which Ratzinger had quietly become an adherent, to the extent of recruiting four consecrated lay members of CL's lay branch, the Memores Domini, to comprise his household, and participating in their weekly School of Community: a practice which, under a laywoman's leadership, he's faithfully kept every Saturday afternoon as Pope.

Six weeks before the death of John Paul II, after 23 years of a global reputation as "God's Rottweiler" or the "Panzerkardinal," his message – delivered before tens of thousands who flowed into the piazza outside and before a national audience on Italian state television – began the process with which the church, beginning with the cardinals, would suddenly come to see the German prelate with new eyes.

Much as the rest is history, this Sunday, in a way, the path comes full circle... and as the backstory pertains to the volatile, beyond uncertain journey to come, well, 'nuff said. 

All that said, given the confluence of this anniversary and the fresh milestones just ahead, here again is that memorable homily's full text.

* * *
Dear Brothers in the episcopate and in the priesthood: “the disciples rejoiced to see Jesus.” 

These words of the Gospel just read indicate the center of the personality and of the life of our dear Fr Giussani.

Fr Giussani grew up in a home—as he himself said—poor as far as bread was concerned, but rich with music, and thus from the start he was touched, or better, wounded, by the desire for beauty. He was not satisfied with any beauty whatever, a banal beauty, he was looking rather for Beauty itself, infinite Beauty, and thus he found Christ, in Christ true beauty, the path of life, the true joy.

Already as a boy, along with other young men, he created a community called Studium Christi. Their program was to speak of nothing else but Christ, because everything else seemed to be a waste of time. Naturally, he was able to overcome the unilaterality, but he always kept the substance. Only Christ gives meaning to the whole of our life. Fr Giussani always kept the eyes of his life and of his heart fixed on Christ. In this way, he understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.

This love affair with Christ, this love story which is the whole of his life was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism. Really seeing Christ, he knew that to encounter Christ means to follow Christ. This encounter is a road, a journey, a journey that passes also—as we heard in the psalm—through the “valley of darkness.” In the Gospel, we heard of the last darkness of Christ’s suffering, of the apparent absence of God, when the world’s Sun was eclipsed. He knew that to follow is to pass through a “valley of darkness,” to take the way of the cross, and to live all the same in true joy.

Why is it so? The Lord himself translated this mystery of the cross, which is really the mystery of love, with a formula in which the whole reality of our life is explained. The Lord says, “Whoever seeks his life, will lose it and whoever loses his life, will find it.”

Fr Giussani really wanted not to have his life for himself, but he gave life, and exactly in this way found life not only for himself, but for many others. He practised what we heard in the Gospel: he did not want to be served but to served, he was a faithful servant of the Gospel, he gave out all the wealth of his heart, he gave out all the divine wealth of the Gospel, with which he was penetrated and, serving in this way, giving his life, this life of his gave rich fruit—as we see in this moment—he has become really father of many and, having led people not to himself, but to Christ, he really won hearts, he has helped to make the world better and to open the world’s doors for heaven.

This centrality of Christ in his life gave him also the gift of discernment, of deciphering correctly the signs of the times in a difficult time, full of temptations and of errors, as we know. Think of 1968 and the following years. A first group of his followers went to Brazil and found itself face to face with extreme poverty, with extreme misery. What can be done? How can we respond? And there was a great temptation to say, “for the moment we have to set Christ aside, set God aside, because there are more pressing needs, we have first to change the structure, the external things, first we must improve the earth, then we can find heaven again.” It was the great temptation of that moment to transform Christianity into a moralism and moralism into politics, to substitute believing with doing. Because what does faith imply? We can cay, “in this moment we have to do something.” And all the same, in this way, by substituting faith with moralism, believing with doing, we fall into particularisms, we lose most of all the criteria and the orientations, and in the end we don’t build, but divide.

Monsignor Giussani, with his fearless and unfailing faith, knew that, even in this situation, Christ, the encounter with Him, remains central, because whoever does not give God, gives too little, and whoever does not give God, whoever does not make people find God in the Fact of Christ, does not build, but destroys, because he gets human activity lost in ideological and false dogmatisms.

Fr Giussani kept the centrality of Christ and, exactly in this way, with social works, with necessary service, he helped mankind in this difficult world, where the responsibility of Christians for the poor in the world is enormous and urgent.

Whoever believes has also to pass through the “valley of darkness,” the dark valleys of discernment, as well as adversities, opposition and ideological hostilities that even took the form of threats to eliminate his people physically, so as to get rid of this other voice that is not content merely with doing things, but brings a greater message , and thus also a greater light.

In virtue of the faith, Monsignor Giussani passed fearlessly through these dark valleys and naturally, with the novelty he carried with him, found it difficult to find a niche inside the Church. Even though the Holy Spirit, according to the needs of the times, creates something new, which is really the return to the origins, it is difficult to see one’s way and to find peaceful harmony in the great communion of the Universal Church. Fr Giussani’s love for Christ was also love for the Church, and thus he always remained a faithful servant, faithful to the Holy Father and faithful to his Bishops. With his foundations he also gave new interpretation to the mystery of the Church.

Communion and Liberation brings to mind immediately this discovery proper of the modern era, freedom. It also brings to mind St Ambrose’s phrase, “Ubi fides est libertas.” Cardinal Biffi drew our attention to the near coincidence of this phrase of St Ambrose with the foundation of Communion and Liberation. Focussing on freedom as a gift proper of faith, he also told us that freedom, in order to be true, human freedom, freedom in truth, needs communion. An isolated freedom, a freedom only for the “I,” would be a lie, and would destroy human communion. In order to be true, and therefore in order to be efficient, freedom needs communion, and not just any kind of communion, but ultimately communion with truth itself, with love itself, with Christ, with the Trinitarian God. Thus is built community that creates freedom and gives joy.

The other foundation, the Memores Domini, brings to mind again the second Gospel read today: the memory that the Lord gave us in the Holy Eucharist, memory that is not merely a remembrance of the past, but memory that creates present, memory in which He gives Himself into our hands and into our hearts, and thus makes us live.

Through valleys of darkness. In the last period of his life, Fr Giussani had to pass through the dark valley of sickness, of infirmity, of pain, of suffering, but here, too, his eyes were fixed on Jesus, and thus he remained true in all the suffering, seeing Jesus, he was able to rejoice; the joy of the Risen One was present, who even in the passion is the Risen One and gives us the true light and joy, and he knew that—as the psalm says—even passing though this valley, “I fear no evil because I know that You are with me, and I will dwell in the Father’s house.” This was his great strength, knowing that “You are with me.”

My dear faithful, dear young people above all, let us take this message to heart, let us not lose sight of Christ and let us not forget that without God nothing good can be built and that God remains enigmatic if he is not recognized in the face of Christ.

Now your dear friend Fr Giussani has reached the other world, and we are convinced that the door of the Father’s house has opened, we are convinced that now this word is fully realized: they rejoiced to see Jesus. He is rejoicing with a joy that no one can take from him. In this moment we wish to thank the Lord for the great gift of this priest, of this faithful servant of the Gospel, of this father. We entrust his soul to the goodness of his Lord and ours.

In this hour we wish to pray particularly, too, for the health of the Holy Father, taken once more into Hospital. May the Lord accompany him and give him strength and health. And let us pray that the Lord enlighten us, give us the faith that builds the world, the faith that makes us find the path of life, true joy. Amen.


"Let Us Move Forward" – Ed Ora, Il Fine di Pontificato

At Roman Noon today, five days until his resignation takes effect, the 265th Roman pontiff begins his final lap in office as Pope Benedict XVI delivers his last Sunday Angelus from his study window before a crowd likely to approach some 200,000 spilling out beyond the Colonnade of St Peter's Square.

As the church enters a period unprecedented in modern times, more detail to come on the home-stretch just ahead. For now, though, as Joseph Ratzinger's last rounds on Peter's chair get underway, let's go back to the start – that memorable Tuesday evening of 19 April 2005, and the new Pope's first words to the world after his election on the fourth ballot:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have chosen me – a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.

It consoles me that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments. So, above all, I entrust myself to your prayers.

In the joy of the Risen Lord, trusting in his unfailing help, let us move forward, that the Lord will help us and Mary, his Most Holy Mother, might be by our side.

Thank you.
Ed in altra volta, per tantissime grazie ricevuti per questi anni, grazie mille anche a te, caro Fluffo.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Vatiwar: For the Italians, Retreat Week Becomes "Fight Club"

Under normal circumstances, the first emotion at the end of a pontificate keeps Roman tensions on a low boil – at least, publicly – as the transition wends through the grief-stricken days of the death of a Pope.

This time, however, the circumstances are anything but normal, and against the backdrop of B16's impending resignation, the "blackout" week of the Pope's Lenten retreat has made for an open festival of brutta figura spilling out from behind the Vatican walls.

In light of the pontiff's historic departure from office in five days, the handover to come was always going to be markedly different from its predecessors. Still, it's fair to say that what's ensued so far is more than anyone bargained for... even if, the natives being themselves, it's not exactly a complete surprise.

Beyond the traditional stream of speculation on supposed "contenders" tipped to emerge from a Conclave that's still at least two weeks – and worlds more maneuvering – away, over recent days the Italian press has blown open long-simmering tensions at the Home Office, all of which serve to confirm the longstanding sense among many key churchmen that the principal task awaiting B16's successor is to get a grip on his Curia after years of embarrassing spectacles which have caused damage both to the departing pontiff and the wider church.

While the week began with two separate instances of cardinals publicly calling out confreres by name in on-record interviews, the "dirty pool" culminated with pieces on Wednesday and Thursday claiming to reveal a centerpiece charge of the top-level commission charged with investigating last year's "Vatileaks" fiasco – namely, the existence of a high-level group of gay officials in the Curia whose behavior allegedly allowed them to be "blackmailed" by outside sources. For good measure, the reports implied that the discovery helped spur Benedict's decision to resign the papacy voluntarily for the first time since 1294.

As has been widely noted, leaving office in life is something Joseph Ratzinger has been weighing for several years – even several months ago, one op long aware of his thinking spoke of being convinced that Benedict felt it a "duty" to transition the church into an age where modern medicine allows the body to outlast the vigor the modern papacy requires. In any event, the storm around the story was arguably exacerbated by the Curia's own devices, first when, in the wake of Thursday's piece in Italy's largest daily, La Repubblica, a leading figure cited as part of the supposed ring – the Holy See's "deputy foreign minister," Msgr Ettore Balestrero, 46 – was suddenly shipped out of Rome yesterday, being named an archbishop and apostolic nuncio to Colombia, a top-tier posting in the Vatican diplomatic corps.

Having served since 2009 as Undersecretary for Relations with States – one of the top five officials of the Secretariat of State – the Balestrero eruption followed by his swift promotion is likely to see a new round of fingers cast in the direction of Benedict's "Vice-Pope," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, who's already shouldered the lion's share of scorn over the Curia's debacles of governance in recent years.

Despite being a ordained a priest of Rome, it's notable that Balestrero was born in Genoa – the heart of Bertone's Northern Italian base, where the cardinal served as archbishop before returning to the Vatican as Benedict's second-in-command in 2006 (below). 

Based in Bogotá, whose 3.5 million Catholics form one of the largest dioceses in the global church, the Colombia posting is regarded as a deluxe assignment in the Corps, one normally given to veteran papal ambassadors after they've weathered more daunting situations. Since 1950, only one other first-time Nuncio has been named there – and that figure, the Spaniard Eduardo Martínez Somalo, eventually became a Vatican cardinal, serving as Camerlengo in 2005 following the death of Blessed John Paul II. 

As with most other Latin American countries given their Catholic heritage, the Vatican's representative to Colombia serves ex officio as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to its government.

Over recent decades, five other mission-chiefs at Bogotá have subsequently become cardinals, and another, the Italian Archbishop Beniamino Stella, currently oversees the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Holy See's diplomatic school. By contrast to all these, Balestrero's predecessor as foreign undersecretary, Pietro Parolin, was sent to the significantly more charged turf of Venezuela for his first nuncio-level assignment.

All that said, the 11th-hour move has the practical effect of removing the besieged monsignor from the Roman scene for an open-ended period until things "simmer down." Before departing for South America, however, the new nuncio must be ordained as a bishop – an event which is likely to take place in rapid order, perhaps even within days, and is almost certain to take on an immensely higher profile than usual given the controversy.

In an unusually irate response to the swirling innuendo, this morning saw a statement emerge from the Secretariat of State which slammed unspecified "news reports abound which are often unverified or not verifiable, or even false," saying they cause "damage to people and institutions," going on to insinuate that the press was attempting to influence the papal election.

"Over the centuries, the cardinals have faced multiple forms of pressure exerted on the individual voters and the same College," the statement said, "with the aim of conditioning decisions, to bend them to a political or worldly logic.

"If in the past the it was the so-called superpowers, namely states, who sought to condition the election of the Pope in their favor, today there is an attempt to apply the weight of public opinion, often on the basis of assessments that fail to capture the spiritual aspect of this moment in the life of the church."

Reinforcing the thin patience with which lead officials are taking the scuttlebutt, in his weekly editorial on Vatican Radio, the Holy See's normally genteel lead spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, lamented that while the church won't be saddled with burying a pontiff in this transition, "we have not been spared another test: that of the multiplication of the pressures and considerations that are foreign to the spirit with which the church would like to live this period of waiting and preparation. 

"There is no lack, in fact, of those who seek to profit from the moment of surprise and disorientation of the spiritually naive to sow confusion and to discredit the church and its governance, making recourse to old tools, such as gossip, misinformation and sometimes slander," Lombardi said. 

"Those who consider money, sex and power before all else and are used to reading diverse realities from these perspectives, are unable to see anything else, even in the Church, because they are unable to gaze toward the heights or descend to the depths in order to grasp the spiritual dimensions and reasons of existence. This results in a description of the Church and of many of its members that is profoundly unjust."

Given the number and scope of incidents on Bertone's watch – a long drip which culminated with the "Vatileaks" torrent – the future of the 78 year-old cardinal after the Conclave will prove a key indicator of how the next pontiff intends to deal with the governing behemoth he'll inherit. Due to the post's importance in both overseeing the Vatican's administrative apparatus and conducting the Holy See's diplomatic relations, recent pontificates have made the helm of State – the Vatican's de facto "prime minister" – among a new Pope's first round of major personnel moves.

In an interview shortly after Benedict's 11 February announcement of his intent to resign, the departing Pope's closest ally in his native Germany – Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne – spoke of urging the pontiff to fire Bertone several years ago as the crises began to build, only to be rebuffed.

Far from the office down the hall, meanwhile, there'll soon be another closely-watched sign of a new Pope's approach to the shop. 

Having been sent across the Atlantic for different reasons – namely, as a "punishment" for protesting the widespread mismanagement he found as the Vatican's "vice-mayor" – a successor to Benedict who means business would likely send that message by recalling Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò from Washington in short order to give the 72 year-old prelate a key Curial post. 

While the Vatican lifer initially lamented his "exile" as nuncio to the US – and, according to reports, repeatedly sought to block the transfer before it was announced in October 2011 – Viganò has since thrown himself intensely into life on these shores, scoring very high marks from the nation's bishops, who've often gone out of their way to speak of the prelate's exceptional level of sensitivity and dedication at the task.