Leaked documents scandal casts shadow over Vatican ceremony
A scandal over leaked Vatican documents and reports of political infighting, financial mismanagement and administrative chaos in its frescoed halls have cast a cloud over this weekend's ceremony to create 22 new cardinals.
With Pope Benedict XVI slowing down as he nears his 85th birthday, today's ceremony has taken on the aura of a pre-conclave summit. Reports abound in the Italian media of cardinals and their supporters jockeying for prominence ahead of a future papal election, and of a Vatican bureaucracy in disarray as Benedict focuses his waning strength on other matters.
All that has weighed on today's consistory, where the 22 new princes of the church will get their red hats, or birette, and be formally welcomed into the elite men's club that will elect Benedict's successor. That ceremony will bring up to 125 the number of cardinals worldwide eligible to vote for the next pope.
Yesterday, cardinals new and old joined Benedict for a pre-consistory day of reflection on spreading the faith in an increasingly secularised world. The meeting was headlined by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
Apologising for his rusty Italian, Dolan peppered his remarks with his trademark good humour. He told the cardinals that evangelising in today's world required its missionaries to live and spread the faith with love, joy -- and "sorry to bring it up, but blood".
He noted how cardinals wear scarlet cassocks to symbolise their willingness to shed blood as martyrs for the faith and make a pledge during the consistory to die as martyrs, if necessary.
"Holy Father, can you omit the 'shedding of your blood' when you present me with the biretta?" Dolan asked the Pope. "Of course not! We are but 'scarlet audio-visual aids' for all of our brothers and sisters also called to be ready to suffer and die for Jesus."
While the subject matter was deadly serious, Dolan's delivery lightened the mood of the otherwise sombre Vatican.
The Vatican spokesman, Rev Federico Lombardi, has been doing serious damage control of late amid reports and leaked documents alleging corruption in the running of the Vatican city state and money laundering at the Vatican bank.
The scandal began last month with the publication of letters from the former No 2 Vatican administrator, who begged the Pope not to be transferred after he exposed millions of euro in cost overruns in the Vatican administration. He was then removed and named the Vatican's US ambassador in Washington.
Subsequent news reports focused on four priests under investigation for allegedly using Vatican bank accounts to launder cash. The Pope's top banker, meanwhile, remains under investigation for allegedly breaking Italy's anti-money laundering law by trying to transfer cash from two Vatican bank accounts without identifying the sender or the recipient. He has denied wrongdoing.
More recent leaks have included a Vatican document warning of a plot to kill the Pope and of an internal debate over the power of the Vatican's new financial watchdog.