Cardinals Seán O'Malley and Daniel DiNardo addressed the press this afternoon at a conference following the second day of the pre-Conclave general congregations currently underway at the Vatican.
The press briefing was held at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Although the cardinals were able to speak in general terms about the general congregation, all cardinals participating in the assembly are bound by an oath of secrecy regarding the specific content of the discussions.
Standard procedure dictates that the Conclave would begin 15-20 days after the beginning of the sede vacante, although it could start sooner if the cardinals come to an agreement. It is expected that a date for the Conclave will be set during these sessions of the general congregation, but this decision is contingent upon the physical presence of all voting cardinals. 110 cardinals have already gathered in Rome, while five more are expected to arrive in the next couple days.
Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, OFM explained how this week's general congregations provide "an opportunity for all of the Cardinals to share their ideas concerning the situation of the Church throughout the world, and the possible needs of the Church going forward, particularly as we prepare to elect a new Holy Father."
"It's an opportunity for us to hear also from the retired cardinals who have a wealth of experience. They will not be coming into the Conclave, but it is an opportunity for them to share their ideas with us," he said.
Cardinal O'Malley said that today they decided it would be beneficial to come together and "pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us in these deliberations and these conversations." Therefore, tomorrow the cardinals will gather in Saint Peter's Basilica for a Holy Hour at 5pm; this will be open to the public.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas noted how it was "good to hear from the cardinals who are over 80 years of age who will not enter into the Conclave. A lot of them have been bishops of dioceses for years, or in the curia, and they have some interesting points of view to bring to our discussions."
He also reiterated the point made by Cardinal O'Malley that the "general congregations are there to help the cardinals understand a little bit about the dimensions of what's going on in the Church worldwide, and even locally. For some, they want more discussion about these issues."
Responding to questions regarding cardinals under age 80 who will not be attending the Conclave, both Cardinal O'Malley and Cardinal DiNardo said that it was reasonable to assume that these cardinals had been excused, and their absence would not affect the start date of the Conclave.
When asked whether Pope Emeritus Benedict would have any involvement in the discussions taking place, both cardinals said this was unlikely. "I think Pope Benedict's declaration that he's going to lead a hidden life," said Cardinal O'Malley, "is a very serious intention on his part, and I do not suspect we will see or hear much about him going forward."
Cardinal DiNardo followed, saying that regardless of media representation: "Anyone who's ever met Pope Benedict [would see that] he's a very shy, very quiet person. And as he has moved into this life of prayer, he will be off the stage, and is not interested at all. There is influence he would have theologically insofar as he is a very fine, brilliant theologian. But from the point of view of influence that we would say is political: [my] knowing him, that won't happen."
The cardinals were then asked about their impression of the media coverage surrounding the pope's resignation and forthcoming Conclave. " All of us are, in some ways, amazed to see how much news has been generated by the Holy Father's retirement," Cardinal O'Malley said. "A lot of the articles that are being written are very reflective. This helps me understand more this moment in history… A lot of the reflection that is going on in our own Catholic community is what you see also being reflected in the newsrooms, because people are interviewing bishops, and priests, and the Catholic faithful, instilling from that a lot of the themes that all of us are reflecting on and praying over in these days."