Monday, March 4, 2013

The Papal Transition: First Day of General Congregation

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

CBS-TV and a French TV station were on hand on the first day of the General Congregation, March 4, to get video of the cardinals heading off for the General Congregation in a van.

Cardinal Dolan was in a hurry; said he wanted a seat on the aisle. Cardinal George later told us seats were assigned by precedence so we don't know if Cardinal Dolan got his wish.

The afternoon media conference drew about 100 journalists, including 20 TV and still photographers. Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal George were the principals, and questions ranged from details of the first General Congregation to reaction to the Scottish cardinal's admission that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual activity. Attendees included U.S. media as well as media from Mexico, Brazil, Italy and several other European nations. Some media are just showing up, so word must be getting around. We've developed a great e-mail list, so we can rapidly contact anyone who has signed in.

The issue of sexual abuse was raised and Cardinal George spoke eloquently. He noted that while new cases are practically nil, there are still victims and the hurt is still in their hearts and minds. As long as it's with them, it's with us and that's going to last for a long time, he said.

Cardinal Wuerl described 142 cardinals each individually swearing his oath to honor the confidentiality of the discussions, a dramatic opening to a morning filled with minutiae, a half-hour coffee break, and limited time for discussions. Important decisions still to come  include whether to have afternoon meetings of the General Congregations and, most importantly, when to start the conclave. Both cardinals referenced words of Thomas Aquinas recommending long deliberation and quick decision-making.

Cardinal Egan leaves for the States on Wednesday. He has been involved in conclaves since the time of Pope Paul VI, so we asked him to speak to the Washington Post and Pittsburgh Post Gazette about his conclave experience. No longer a voting cardinal, he has been involved in conclaves even as a functionary when he was assigned to Rome as a young priest. He's also a good storyteller.

I did an interview with CNN on women in the church and pointed out there are many forms of leadership: moral, elected, etc. Everybody knows about Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, for example, but few know who was pope when they were alive. The piece, with Ben Wedeman and which includes other women interviewees, is to air tomorrow.

Office is running well thanks to Beatrice, our assistant who knows three languages, the system at the college, the importance of coffee and Diet Coke, and media needs. She'll get us through.


Sister Mary Ann Walsh is the media relations director of the USCCB.

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