VATICAN CITY - The Vatican's penchant for secrecy has won out over American-style transparency.
The U.S. cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect the next pope canceled their popular daily press briefings Wednesday, purportedly after some details of the secret proceedings under way ahead of the election were leaked to Italian newspapers.
The Vatican denied it had exerted any pressure on the American cardinals to keep quiet. But the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, made clear that the Holy See considered this week's pre-conclave meetings, in which cardinals are discussing the problems of the church, to be secret and part of a solemn process to choose a pope.
"The College (of Cardinals) as a whole has decided to maintain a line of an increasing degree of reserve," he said.
The spokeswoman for the U.S. cardinals, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said Wednesday's briefing was canceled after other cardinals expressed concern in the morning "about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers."
She said that, as a precaution, all interviews had been canceled.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Walsh said Italy's La Stampa newspaper had on Monday and Tuesday reported details of comments individual cardinals made in the closed-door meetings that were cited as a violation of their oath of secrecy. That prompted the decision to observe a media blackout.
She dismissed speculation that the Vatican and cardinals from other countries simply didn't appreciate the openness of the Americans, saying, "I don't think anyone was angry at the Americans. They were angry at La Stampa.
"In true old-style Catholic school teacher fashion, someone talks and everybody stays after school," Walsh said. She added that the Americans had been assured that the Vatican was pleased with their briefings.
Perhaps. But Lombardi suggested he was irritated with the American briefings in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday, when asked whether he had considered inviting cardinals to his briefings to provide journalists with first-hand information from the participants.
Lombardi said he had decided against it because of the vow of secrecy and the natural reserve that is supposed to accompany the cardinals in these days preceding a conclave.
"If some cardinals think it's useful to communicate, naturally preserving the reserve they've committed themselves to concerning the election, I have no objections," he wrote. "I do my part helping journalists."
Italian media speculated that Vatican-based cardinals and Italian cardinals in particular were displeased with the popular American briefings - they were the only ones holding press conferences - and the U.S. openness about wanting to delay the start date of the conclave.
Cardinals Daniel DiNardo of Texas and Sean O'Malley of Boston said in Tuesday's briefing that they favored taking a longer time for pre-conclave discussions to gather more information about the problems of the Vatican bureaucracy and discern who among them should be pope.
"We need to give it the time that's necessary," O'Malley told the packed press conference at the North American College, the U.S. seminary up the hill from the Vatican. "I believe the feeling of the cardinals is that we want to have enough time in the general congregations so that when we go to the conclave itself it's a time of decision."
Drawing laughs, O'Malley added: "And it is hard to get a bad meal in Rome."
Italian newspapers on Wednesday, however, reported that Vatican-based cardinals wanted the election to take place quickly and that there was no reason to draw out the pre-conclave discussions. The implication was that perhaps they don't want all the Vatican's dirty laundry aired out.
Italian newspapers and international media, including The Associated Press, have reported on the unique briefings the Americans were providing, and how they contrasted with the near-silence from other cardinals and the comparatively sedate Vatican briefings.
During Tuesday's briefing, DiNardo and O'Malley held a lively and informative 30-minute chat with some 100 reporters and two dozen television crews from around the globe. They revealed no details of their closed-door discussions. But they nevertheless provided journalists with insight about the process from two people actually involved.
"We're trying to help people have a greater understanding of what the process is and the procedures and background information," O'Malley told reporters. "Right now that's about all we can share with you but we're happy to try to do it."
Although the Americans were the only cardinals who were holding daily briefings, other individual cardinals have given occasional interviews to individual media.
And in an indication that the blackout wasn't total, U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan went ahead with his live radio show broadcast Wednesday.
Separately Wednesday, the Vatican said only one voting-age cardinal remained absent, Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man. Lombardi said he was expected Thursday, meaning a date for the start of the conclave could be decided then.