CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN
This past Thursday, the day Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican in a helicopter at 5pm, I had an interview scheduled with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York at 4:30pm at the North American College, not far from the Vatican. I work in television where images speak louder than words and I knew that it would be a shame to be sitting in a closed room with the Cardinal as that helicopter left. (Anyone who works in TV know that helicopter departure shots are nearly always historic — helicopters taking people off the roof of the US embassy in Saigon, Nixon leaving the White House in a helicopter etc.)
In the early afternoon, I called Joe Zwilling, Dolan’s spokesman, and begged him to let me do the interview on the roof of the North American College and get the shot of Dolan watching the helicopter go. I even joked with Zwilling, “C’mon, please help me on this one, can’t you just see it, the future pope watching the resigning Pope depart. Great stuff.” Zwilling was not convinced telling me, “The Cardinal’s got back to back one-on-one interviews, there’s not going to be time.” I insisted and finally he said I could press my case with the Cardinal.
At 4:30 pm my cameraman Oleg Cetnic and I were ready for our interview in a closed, boring looking “Paul VI” sitting room at the North American College. Cardinal Timothy Dolan burst into the room full of enthusiasm and energy. He was wearing a long black cassock, a red skull cap and and a large, gold pectoral cross. He stuck out his hand and greeted me warmly. I charged into the interview because I wanted to get through it to get him out on the roof. I first asked him about how he felt about Benedict’s resignation and he answered, “We are not used to it. It’s tough for us to think of — a Pope dying is natural- a Pope stepping aside is something new to us, so it was startling.”
I asked him about what he thought his chances were of becoming Pope and he lobbed that one aside with grace and ease. I asked him about all the mud-slinging that has been going on and the controversies involving the Vatican. He responded, “that has always been a part of the Church, the Church is the spotless bride of Christ, her members aren’t, including me, OK?” At this point he raised his hand and stared intensely at me as though he wanted me to know he is sinner number one. His clunky cross slapped against the microphone making a banging sound prompting Oleg to stop the interview and attach the microphone to the cross chain so it would move with the cross as it bounced about.
Then Dolan continued, “So her members are sinful, and if that sin should go unfortunately all the way through the leaders, pastors and shepherds, and even people who work in the home office, well I hope it never fails to sadden us and move us to reform.”
A little aside here. Italian journalist and Vatican analyst Massimo Franco published this week a book titled “The Crisis in the Vatican Empire.” In it he spoke of the next “Conclave during which the Cardinals will have to choose a new Pope to face a Catholic Church on the “verge of collapse.”
Franco’s book describes a Vatican Curia “traumatized by internal struggles, news leaks, and an “Italian syndrome” of poison, conspiracy, back-stabbing and substantial immobility”
Dolan agreed that it is time for reform saying, “At a time like this, when the church is under scrutiny, you see it more dramatically, I am afraid. These days there seems to be a “shocker of the day” and you wonder how much of it is gossip, innuendo and whisper. But I guess in answer to your good question, ‘do we need to be serious about renewal and reform? You bet we do.|
I asked Dolan about the pressure to keep Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles out of the Conclave and what he thought about that. He defended Mahony’s participation this way, “There is a flip side to everything, right? So there is a very good side to the coverage that the church is getting now. Thank you. The interest, the attention, the probing, the examination. Bravo. Keep it up. Not only do we need it, but it is good for us and it is good for the church. There is a flip side to that because you are going to begin to dwell on the negatives, the gossip and there is sometimes going to be pressure. I think you will find for the Cardinals, one of our basic prayers is going to be to do this serenely, to keep things in focus, not to give in to any pressure.”
So, that was Dolan’s way of saying Mahony should not give in to pressure to exclude himself from the Conclave.
About 5 minutes into the interview Joe Zwilling began staring me down. Zwilling is a big, tall bald guy with intense blue eyes. I could feel them drilling into me. A Zwilling-Drilling. I quickly glanced at him and he made me a sign that I needed to wrap it up. The New York Times and Reuters were waiting outside for their turn. So, I concluded with my Mamma question (see earlier post The Last Day of Pope Ben 16 ) and then the Cardinal stood up and I made my big play for the roof shot, urging the Cardinal that this was a moment that he could not miss and that all the other journalist would be happy to wait.
The good-natured Dolan, who can smell a good photo-op, agreed. We took the freight elevator up to the roof to find it already filled with dozens of seminarians many of them waving American flags as they waited for the helicopter departure. My cameraman Oleg told me that we need to get Dolan down to the perfect spot at the end of the roof, but Dolan, being a natural pol, began working the crowd stopping to chat up, handshake every single seminarian on the roof. I finally urged and pushed until we got him into the key position, and it was a fabulous shot. If any of you have seen that video or photo, you can thank me for it.
CARDINAL GEORGE PELL
The next morning I had an interview with Cardinal Pell of Australia. Cardinal Pell has the charming Australian habit of telling it like it is. No beating about the bush. As the Italians say “non ha peli su la lingua” — he doesn’t have hairs growing on his tongue. (My other favorite Italian expression regarding body hairs is — ha peli sullo stomaco — he has hairs on his stomach- which means that person is tough and can take conflict and criticism. )
I did the interview with Pell on the AP Television roof with the fantastic backdrop of St. Peter’s Basilica. We were both standing and it was a tad chilly.
So in a my brief interview with Pell he told me that Pope Benedict’s decision to resign has been “destabilizing.” This is how he put it. “He (Benedict XVI) knows his history better than I do, he recognizes this represents something of a change in tradition and you could say in a mild way, it destabilizes, changes 600 years of tradition.”
He went on to say that he thinks Benedict XVI is sick, something Vatican officials have vigorously denied. According to Pell “you only have to look at him to see how sick he looks. I don’t know whether he is, but he is weak and he has deteriorated even in the last couple of months.”
Still sick nor not, Pell thinks that Popes need to stick it out, as John Paul II did, until they die. I told Pell that a day earlier Cardinal O’Malley of Boston suggested that the possibility of future Popes resigning has given the Cardinals more options in electing the next Pope. O’Malley said “I can see the Conclave deciding to elect an older man realizing that he is not going to have to carry this burden into his 90s and that if he becomes incapacitated he would feel permission to be able to resign.”
Pell responded forcefully to that “I hope we don’t move to a succession of Popes who resign quickly…I wouldn’t want to see the Successor of Peter popping in and out.”
On the problems in the Vatican Curia, Pell suggested they will be looking for a new Pope who can sort those problems out saying, “It would be useful to have a Pope who can pull the show together, lift the morale of the Curia, and strengthen a bit of the discipline there…”
Pell also told me a bit about what he is looking for in the next Pope and about the General Congregation meetings next week with all the Cardinals leading up to the Conclave, he said he is looking for “Wisdom. And the clarification of the options and I am sure these meetings will be very edifying. I know what the voting was like in the Sistine Chapel last time, the prayerfulness of the other Cardinals was striking. I mean we love the church, we’ve been on the track for a while, we are well aware of the difficulties and we are well aware of the importance of this choice and so we will be approaching is very seriously.
At the end of the interview, I asked Pell if we could get the required “cut-away” shots to put between the soundbites. Those shots usually include hands, a book, or whatever a person might be holding, and sometimes a wider shot of a interviewee walking into a room. In this case, we needed to do his hands as there was no where to walk but off the roof. As the cameraman was filming his hands, I noticed he was not wearing his Cardinal’s ring. I asked him why not and he explained that we was quite upset because it has been irritating his ring finger, so he moved it to his pinkie and it must have slipped off somewhere. Good thing it wasn’t a Papal ring, that would have been a disaster.
DAILY BRIEFINGS WITH THE POPE’S SPOKESMAN
Since the day Benedict XVI announced his resignation, I have been covering the Pope spokesman’s Father Federico Lombardi’s daily briefing which some days has seemed like the theater of the absurd. Father Lombardi is an exceptionally calm, endlessly patient Jesuit with a quirky laugh that pops up at unusual moments. Under Pope John Paul II, the spokesman was the suave, slick, Spaniard Jaoquim Navarro-Valls of Opus Dei – who kept us journalists at a distance and fed us tid-bits of packaged news like doggy biscuits when he wanted. I had very little access to Navarro-Valls. Lombardi, on the other hand, from the first day on the job, nearly eight years ago, was always available, gave his cell phone to everyone, and attempted to answer every question with the utmost sincerity. In fact, he seemed far too sincere for the job and got plenty of criticism for it.
Now I– and many others — have developed a huge admiration for him. He has sat some days in the past few weeks for nearly two hours in press briefings packed with journalists from all over the globe asking the most inane questions, over and over again in multiple languages. Lombardi calmly and coolly attempts to answer all, sometimes with his little giggle that vacillates from slightly exasperated to nervous. In the two weeks after the Pope resigned, he must have been asked 20 times in Italian, English, French and Spanish, what Benedict XVI would be called once he resigned. Lombardi very calmly would answer, “Perhaps, you were not here for my earlier briefings, but we still do not have the official name….”
Lombardi must have had the question about what the Pope would wear, what would happen to his ring, and what color shoes would he wear, a dozen times each. Once when asked how soon the Pope would move into the monastery inside the Vatican, Lombardi did one of his little giggles and said, “any one of you who have had any work done on your home will know that nothing is ever done on time.”
I believe it was this past Tuesday, some journalist asked what Pope Benedict XVI was up to that afternoon, and again with a slight laugh Lombardi answered something along the lines of, “he is about to leave on a trip, so I believe he is working this afternoon packing up his bags in the papal apartment.”
Now the Vatican has brought in Father Thomas Rosica of Canada and Father Gil Tamayo of Spain to brief with Lombardi, clarifying points in English, Spanish and French. I have to cover these briefings from start to finish every day, and I go loaded down with newspapers and prepared to tweet tidbits while we go through endless translation of information.
On Friday it all seemed exceptionally absurd to me. It was the first day of the Sede Vacante and they showed a video to us all of the ceremony in which the Papal Chamberlain– Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone– walked through the Vatican with a small group of Vatican officials, went into the Papal apartments, “sealed” the Papal elevator with some scotch tape and put a little red stamp on it. They then sealed the wooden doors to the Papal apartments with a red ribbon and a wax seal. When we saw the scotch tape going on the Papal elevator doors, we all started chuckling a bit.
Now I have taken up the habit of tweeting during these endless briefings so I promptly tweeted.
“Vatican Chamberlain Seals Papal Apartments with scotch tape and red ribbon.”
Just then I got a text message from my son Nico. “Mom, have you completed your IRS income tax return or another tax return?”
So I replied, “I did last year’s not this year’s, why?
The video in the Sala Stampa ended and the briefing went on. Father Lombardi said that he had gotten a call that morning from Benedict’s personal secretary the handsome Archbishop Georg Ganswein. Lombardi then said the following:
“He was very relaxed, he told me that they slept well. Both the Holy Father and him and I think all the others. So, he was speaking with a tone of voice that was very relaxed and cordial and he gave me the impression of a climate of serenity and peace.”
And then Father Federico Lombardi giggled. And I giggled, and we all giggled because the way he said it really made it sound as though they had slept together like a young couple on a honeymoon. As sacrilegious as it may seem, I believe that is what every person in the room was thinking.
Lombardi then went on to describe their evening. A nice dinner after which they watched TV reports of the Benedict’s departure from the Vatican. This was the Pope who said he was going to remain “hidden from the world” following his resignation and we were learning about how he slept and what he was watching on TV.
So I began tweeting,
“Padre Georg tells Pope spox that Ben 16 slept well and enjoyed watching tv reports of his departure.”
Then I got another text message from Nico “Need info now for missed deadline on financial aid application for US universities.”
“I am in the Pope’s spokesman briefing, can it wait?”
Nico: “No, Mom, this is an emergency, I missed the deadline.”
The briefing continued and I did another tweet:
Ben 16 took a walk in the garden of Castel Gandolfo after dinner last night says Georg to Pope spox
A flurry of text messages from Nico:
Did both parents files separately?
Did you both file as head of household?
Did you file an amended tax return?
Did you file electronically in the last 3 weeks or by mail in the last 8?
I tweeted the latest from the briefing:
Pope Ben 16 played piano every night after dinner in the weeks leading up to his resignation
I responded to Nico:
I filed alone last year. Papa doesn’t file US Taxes because he is Italian, I did not file electronically, always by post.
The briefing continued and I tweeted:
Vatican releases new stamps for the Sede Vacante available at Vatican Post office. Sede Vacante coins coming later.
Text message from Nico:
head of household?
What’s your pin for the IRS?
Do not have one.
Are you sure? And did you file as head of household?
Can’t do this now. Will look tonight
No, but I need it now. The deadline is today.
A journalist raised his hand in the briefing and asked what Benedict XVI had eaten for breakfast. Father Lombardi giggled and said he didn’t know “probably his usual light breakfast.”
End of press briefing, end of messages with Nico. I rushed out to do a one-on-one interview with Father Thomas Rosica on the general congregations that begin next week with the cardinals meeting every day and how that compares to an election campaign.
FRAZZLED MAMMA FRONT
Blog readers, if you don’t already have an idea of just how frazzled I am after reading the above exchange, here are a few more details. My son and I ended up having a huge 1:30 am blowout which probably woke up a few people in our building. He is basically right. I was finishing up a blog post at 1am and he needed my help with his financial aid. His aggressive, teenage wait-til-the-last-minute-and-then-throw-it-all-on-Mom attitude didn’t help. Then I managed to have a blowout with my 15-year-old daughter who decided to skip school on Friday because there was a test. After a 7:30am battle with her on Friday morning I threw in the towel and left for the Vatican because I had the interview with Cardinal Pell at 9:30am.
My youngest daughter was devastated that I eliminated the strawberry fingernails before the Dolan interview (See blog post The Last Day of Pope Ben 16) and insisted we do another round of fingernail art leaving me with grey polka dotted nails that I have promised to keep (and have for two days). I wrote to my husband in Mexico and told him to come home and cancel his trip to a conference in the US. He agreed, and he is on his way home but he wrote to me saying that he has caught a nasty stomach bug in Mexico. Oh dear, oh dear.
I have an interview with Cardinal Wuerl in a few hours and this morning I need to take Chiara to a museum for a school homework project due tomorrow. Yikes!
And finally dear Blog Readers — Many of you have sent me comments and private emails asking questions some of which I hope I have answered in this post. First, many of you asked for more details about my interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, so I shared some of that. Several people have asked why I don’t get some outside voices on the Vatican. Others have asked why I don’t talk to some analysts they have seen on TV. So, in answer to that let me explain a bit about how AP works. AP is a massive news organization with bureaus all over the world producing TV, wire, photos, radio and on-line reports. In this period I am assigned to the Vatican, with a particular duty to get access to Cardinals to cover the Pope’s spokesman’s briefing and keep on top of what is happening at the Vatican, speaking frequently to Vatican analysts. I am not doing overall analysis of the Catholic church, or protests against– but others at AP are. For example, this week the group SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) has been organizing protests and press conferences in Rome. I was not assigned to cover it, but AP colleagues did. As far as Vatican analysts are concerned — I know all the best of them and interview them regularly, and am happy to share more of their thoughts. I have been irritated this week because some of my best analysts have been given big money to be exclusive with the US networks. So, for example, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News swoops into town and ties up a financial deal with my friend John Thavis who has covered the Vatican for 30 years and recently wrote “The Vatican Diaries”, and suddenly John has no more time for me. Then another Vatican analyst who I use regularly, Marco Politi, who has written “Joseph Ratzinger: Crisis of a Papacy”, tells me CNN has snapped him up. John Allen of National Catholic Reporter has great insights but works exclusively for CNN. He has written “A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John Allen Jr.”. ABC has also grabbed (again for money) one of my best Vatican analysts Father John Wauck of Opus Dei. Father John was an analyst AP used during the last Papal election who watched the newly-elected Benedict XVI come out on the balcony standing by the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square and was ready to give me a good description of what kind of a person Ratzinger was.
So, I am a bit grouchy about this. George Stephanopoulos plunks down in Rome and throws around a lot of cash and gets what he wants and I– who have been covering the Vatican for years– am left high and dry. Oh well, to hell with George. He and Tom Cruise spend too much time coloring their hair (I’d rather have a good grey-haired Richard Gere or George Clooney — certain men know how to age better than others)
Speaking of grey hair, I just got back from the Wuerl interview. That was very interesting, here are just a few quick tidbits. We did the interview in the Courtyard of the Orange trees at the North American College and he told me that for the next Pope he is looking for someone with “vision and energy.” He suggested that that person could come from any continent, saying that the papacy is “now no longer a hegemony of Europe.”
One blog reader suggested I ask the Cardinals if the question of celibacy is likely to come up in the Cardinals’ discussions this week. Wuerl was crystal clear on that one, “the teaching of the church isn’t what the Conclave gathers to discuss. I don’t think that is going to be part of the focus, the focus of this is rather intense, who should be the leader of the church.”
He also said he is not particularly concerned about the problems in the Vatican Curia.
“I think the real priority in the Conclave is to choose the Pope who is going to deal with these great, global issues…. If there are some internal problems in the Vatican that eventually will be dealt with, it certainly isn’t going to condition how I am going to be looking at who is going to guide and lead the church in the next years.”
More on the Cardinals and the Conclave in the coming week….
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.