Counting Down to the Conclave

Tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square on Sunday Feb. 17, 2013 to hear Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday Angelus. Photo by Gregorio Borgia for Mozzarella Mamma.

Dear Blog Readers — I’m seeing RED. I’ve become obsessed with Cardinals.  I am constantly contemplating Cardinals.  I stay awake at night fretting about Cardinals and spend my days plotting to get Cardinal interviews.  This week I will do a post on the Cardinals who are considered “papabili”, future Pope contenders, but now I just want to give you a little background on the numbers.  The Conclave will be in March and I will do a separate post to describe how that works, but here’s some background on who’s voting and what they might be looking for.

There are 117 Cardinal Electors who will vote in the Conclave. To get elected Pope, a Cardinal needs a two-thirds majority, so 78 votes.  Although he will have resigned, Pope Benedict  XVI  will still have a big influence on this Conclave because he has personally selected 67 of the electors, the rest were chosen by Pope John Paul II.  The largest geographical block in the Conclave is the European block with 61 Cardinal Electors.  Within that group is the largest national block, the Italians, with 28 Cardinals (Note: that means the Italians have one-fourth of the entire vote).  The Latin Americans are 19, and the North Americans are 14, Africans are 11, Asians are 11, and Oceania (Australia) has 1 Cardinal elector.

So what will the Cardinals be looking for?  Before the Conclave begins, the Cardinals will have one week of talks in Rome during which they will exam the problems of the Church.    All the Cardinals who wish to address the group will be given an opportunity.  It is basically the electoral campaign period.

Last week Pope Benedict XVI set out some guidelines for the Cardinal electors telling them a Pope needs “Physical and spiritual vigor” to face the “rapid changes of today’s world”.

The Cardinals will probably be looking for a good administrator.  Pope Benedict was a bad administrator who wrote three books about Jesus while he was Pope while the men around him in the Vatican were back-stabbing each other.  Most Vatican analysts believe the Cardinals will want to find a candidate who can put the house in order.

The Cardinals will probably be looking for an international candidate who speaks many languages, but who has also had experience working at the Vatican. Cardinals who have worked at the Vatican in Rome tend to have an advantage.

We are expecting most of the Cardinals to arrive in Rome by February 27th in time for Pope Benedict XVI’s last weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square and then his departure by helicopter from the Vatican at five o’clock on February 28th.

But there is one person who will be persona non grata in Rome.  Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles

There is a rising movement outside the Vatican to block Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles from participating in the Conclave.  Mahony ran the Archdiocese of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, during that time he covered up 129 cases of priestly abuse of minors.  He is supposed to testify in one case in court this Saturday.

I remember when Mahony came to Rome in 2001, when John Paul II called a meeting for all the US Cardinals to talk about the sexual abuse crisis in the US.  A cameraman and I stopped Mahony as he was walking towards the Vatican one morning and asked him about sexual abuse by priests in Los Angeles, he literally shoved me aside and refused to comment.  I suppose it is easier to shove aside an irritating journalist than to stop and speak the truth.

As a 77-year-old, Mahony has the right to participate and cast his vote for the next Pope, but many feel that the man who covered up for priests who sexually abused children for decades has no place in the Conclave.  An American group, “Catholic United” has started a petition calling on Cardinal Mahony to stay home.  Thousands of people have signed . This week the Italian Catholic Magazine “Famiglia Cristiana” posted a poll on line asking “Mahony in the Conclave: Yes or No?” The answer was a loud and clear “NO.”

But Mahony is definitely planning to come and vote as he indicated in this Tweet on February 18th.  From @CardinalMahony “Count-down to the Papal Conclave has begun. Your prayers needed that we elect the best Pope for today and tomorrow’s Church.”

There is little doubt that anyone within the Vatican will stop Mahony from participating.  Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up case of pedophile priests in Boston, participated in the last Conclave, and people outside the church can make a good case, but the bottom line is, the Vatican is not a democracy.

Interestingly, the whole Mahony question has heated up a debate around the Vatican.  The Italian papers were filled with reports today about a domino-like effect if one starts looking at Cardinals who have been involved in cover-ups.  Several papers had photos of Cardinal Sean Brady from Ireland, Cardinal Godfried Daneels from Belgium, and Cardinal George Pell from Australia.

Today I covered a press conference at the Vatican with Ambrogio Piazzoni of the Vatican library, an expert on the history of conclaves.  He shared with us some interesting stories of past Conclaves including one where the Cardinals were given less and less food until they were only giving them bread and water so they would hurry up and reach a decision.  When asked whether there were any cases when Cardinal electors chose not to participate in a Conclave, he said Cardinal electors have only missed a Conclaves in the past only for reasons of illness or if they were blocked by their governments.

There are some very interesting and honorable men among the “papabili”, front-runners for Pope. Today I was working on profiles of all AP television’s top “papabili”. We are rushing to get video from Honduras, Ghana and Manila of some of the prominent Cardinals who are in the running. But that will be my next post.

Now, I know all my blog-readers may not be interested in all this detail about a Papal election, some of my blog-readers are more interested in my struggling working Mom experiences, and some of my blog readers are foodies.  So for those of you who care less about the Vatican front, here is what is happening on the personal front.

Monday was my husband’s birthday.  It was one of those days when I was so charged up about work I felt that every hair on my head was standing straight up with a yellow electric charge buzzing off each end.  I flew home from the office to get there by 5:30 just in time to pick up Caterina at home, get Chiara at swimming and go with them to buy their present (a neck-tie).  I then left Chiara at catechism class and went with Caterina to the supermarket to buy the ingredients for my foolproof, stressed-out, frazzled Mom, can’t blow it Chocolate Cheesecake.

I love my foolproof, frazzled Mom cheesecake because I figure I can drop it on the floor, flip it upside down, throw it across the room, and my kids will still eat it.  The ingredients just make it taste so good, it doesn’t matter how much you mess it up– which is fairly often in my case.

After the supermarket, we went back to get Chiara, rushed home, made the chocolate cheese cake and then I started cooking dinner.  It was already 8pm and my in-laws showed up enroute to a dinner party to wish my husband a happy birthday.  They stayed for an hour so it was 9pm when we finally sat down at the dinner table.  My son Nico inhaled his dinner as usual and then jumped up and said he would whip the cream to go on top of the cheesecake. While he was whipping the cream, I polished off my dinner.

I told him to spread the whip cream on top of the cheesecake and grate some chocolate flakes on top.  But once again, I messed up.  I forgot the the cake was still hot from the oven and when he put the whipped cream on top it melted into a messy liquid.  Oh well, like I said, we ate it anyway and it was yummy.

So…if any foodies out there want to try and do a post on the Foolproof, Frazzled Mom cheesecake, please do so, and take a nice photo when you are done.  Here’s the recipe.


Crush in the blender:

1.5 cups of Petit Beurre biscuits or Graham Crackers

Melt .5 cup of butter and mix with crackers

Spread in the bottom of a large, round, flat pan and spread up the edges.  Grease the pan first

Filling:  Mix in Cuisinart of Mixer

16 ounces of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (600 grams)

12 ounces (1.5 packages) Nestle Semi-sweet chocolate chips (350 grams of Ciocciolato fondente in Italy)

1 Can condensed milk (Eagle Brand or Nestle)

3 eggs

Pour filling over crust and cook for 30 minutes or however long it takes to look done.

After it cools, put in fridge. When ready to eat, spread whip cream on top and grate bittersweet chocolate on top.




24 thoughts on “Counting Down to the Conclave”

  1. Well Trisha – You managed to give us both an insight into what’s going on surrounding the upcoming conclave AND a good recipe too. I find the Vatican events fascinating but what’s going on at your home front is pretty amusing too. It reminds me of what life was like when I was a journalist with kids at home and I’m sure lots of readers can relate. Now I must try that cheesecake!

    1. Hi Linda — I was worried that I might be boring you all to death with all these Conclave details, hence the cheesecake. You should definitely try it. Thanks for reading my blog posts.

  2. Trisha, I am loving this stuff about the papal election. Working in a Catholic school we tend to hear only one side of the story – and it’s not the side of cover-ups and pedophilia. Good to know Cardinal Pell is being named and shamed on the other side of the world for his atrocious actions.

    And the cheesecake – well that’s my son’s 17th birthday dessert organised! I can almost taste it now mmmmmm. I’ll savour every delicious mouthful while he hands over a note from school which is a week old and demands payment of $50 for a field trip that’s tomorrow whilst at the same time telling me he ‘doesn’t need university as I can get an apprenticeship as an electrician at the end of grade 11!’. Please….pass more cheesecake!

    1. Kathy — I am glad my information is useful and not too boring. On the son front….yikes, it can be so hard. Last night I got home and there was a letter from one of the Universities my son had applied to in the US. He had gone off to play football with friends and told me he would be home for dinner. I was jumping out of my pants waiting for him to get home, hoping he had been accepted at a University. He didn’t arrive until well after dinner (9:30pm) and opened the letter just to find he had not taken one of the necessary exams required for that University in the US. And now it is too late to take it. I then had to help in write an explanatory email about how he managed to miss that requirement. How can you say “I didn’t read the fine print” or “I just didn’t notice” without sounding like a sloppy teen. I hope there are other kids who have screwed up on their applications and mine is not the only one.

      1. Oh Trisha I so hear you! It must have been excruciating waiting for Nico to get home and then seeing the exam was missed. Oh boy. I sure hope something can come of it and he can do the test. Teenage brains just jump all over the shop – I see it at work and in my own home. It’s so easy for them to unintentionally miss fine details especially when they have friends to Facebook, maths homework due yesterday, football training, a girl on their mind and mom nagging them to do the dishes. I am sure other kids have done exactly the same thing.
        Jack’s venturing into university is another year away (he started school at six years old so is still in 11th grade) – that is IF he applies and doesn’t go the apprenticeship thing. Nooooo – where is that cheesecake!

  3. Fatastic post! Fascintating and informative, as usual, Trish! I am going to link to it in the post that I am working on at the moment. Before reading I scrolled down to end and saw the recipe, and I couldn’t help wondering: how will she manage to segue from papal scandals to cheesecake?? But you did it, and now I’m hungry!
    I am so excited by the upcoming conclave, I can’t even see straight, and I will be following your posts faithfully! I’m so jealous of you in the thick of it all, seeing history in the making! The best I can hope for is to be one of the thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square when the new pope is announced! I’m rooting for Dolan, but I don’t have much hope! Can’t wait to hear your predictions!

    1. Thank you Tiffany. I hope to see you somewhere there in the square. It is such an exciting moment and I do feel lucky to see history in the making. Gosh, I better get working on that Papabili post.

  4. I cannot wait for the next post! I love all these details and your observations, too. And yes, there are so many coverups, all over the world, and until the cardinals are willing to talk openly about sexuality, repression, bodies, and the image of God, none of that will change. I hope you are running your own little seminar at home for Chiara, to supplement her catechism classes!
    The pictures are, as always, superb. And the news about groups who are trying to raise some issues, protest something like Mahoney attending, or take surveys, add a lot to your posts.
    Even the numbers are fascinating, as they do not coordinate with the actual number of Catholics. Italy has more cardinals, but cannot have more Catholics than the US, it is so small. And Africa has the fastest growing RC population but only a small number of cardinals.
    And then, how much house clearning can the new guy do with Ben 16 living next door?
    Lots to observe!

    1. Believe me Chiara is getting her own Catechism seminar from me. When I got married I signed on to raise all my children Catholic, but in addition to their communion and confirmation classes, they do get an earful of my thoughts, and opinions. I remember once last year, I took Chiara out for a pizza after catechism class. She casually told me while chomping on a piece of pizza that “Mamma, people who use contraceptives are baby-killers.” I nearly choked on my pizza. I told her that she was saying that I was a baby-killer. She looked at me wide-eyed “you use contraceptives?” I got so worked up about it I think everyone in the pizzeria was hearing my lecture by the end, and Chiara was begging me to let it go. I was so worked up that I called the teacher and gave her my opinon on that one too. Interestingly, Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the Western world, and I don’t think all the Italian Catholic women are using the rhythm method.

  5. Hi Trisha!

    I love that you can seamlessly transition from covering the conclave to cheesecake.. those two couldn’t be more different than each other! Thanks for the background information on the conclave. I can’t wait to read about the papabili in your upcoming posts!

    P.s. I’m gonna try that cheesecake recipe next time I have a potluck with my friends. Cream Cheese + condensed milk + chocolate chip? WHAT!? Life doesn’t get better than that! Teehee!

    1. Pauline — you must try the cheesecake recipe, it is so easy! And I am happy to hear you are interested in hearing my papabili list. Coming soon.

    1. Ok, Alan. Understood. I can’t excite you with Cardinals and Chocolate Cheesecake recipes…I will have to come up with something else. But I guess it will have to wait until after we have a new Pope.

  6. I was in Rome today…on my to do list , pass by the Vatican farmacia to pick up my yearly dose of Estee Lauder cream. Was refused entrance by Swiss Guard, as were several other people, I guess the security has tightened up significantly for the next few weeks until the election.

    1. Mary Jane — Estee Lauder cream at the Vatican pharmacy?!?!. That sounds like some thing I want to get in on. How do you manage that? Is there a good discount there? Can my Vatican press pass get me in? Given all the wrinkles I am getting with the stress these days, I definitely will need some of that. Let me know next time you are in town and we will have an espresso at the Vatican. I would love to meet you.
      I did go into the Vatican on Monday to meet with a contact for a interview on backgroun, but he made me promise I would not write about it on my blog (a comment response doesn’t count). I found the atmosphere electric. Everyone was fired up and ready to go from the Swiss Guards to the Elevator operators.

  7. Hi Trisha,

    Oh I am just eating this up! And I can not begin to tel you how pleased I am to her that there is some resistance to Cardinal Mahony. I had no idea. As I mentioned previously the recent document dump from the Church here in Los Angeles has caused quite a stir. As an aside, I find his reluctance to speak to you quite interesting and ever so out of character. As a friend of mine, an administrator in the Los Angeles Archdiocese once said of the Cardinal “Cardinal Mahony, the man who never met a camera he didn’t like.”

    I await your next report.

    Best wishes to your husband. I hope he had a wonderful day, and I hope your family celebration was a treat for all. Your cheesecake sounds great – I love the ones that always work!

    1. Adri — I am so pleased you like my blog posts on the Vatican. I’ve been worried I might be overdoing it.

      On the cheesecake recipe, since I did not specify, I used this condensed milk that i get in Italy called “Nestle latte intero condensato zuccherato” and it is 397 grams. In the US I think I used a little can of Eagle Brand.
      I am really hoping you do a post on this cheesecake because I am sure you can do it beautifully and would be able to do one of your fabulous photos.

  8. Oh boy does all this bring back memories. Memories of standing in the Vatican courtyard looking up at Pope John Paul’s window wondering how long he would hold on. Then hearing on the plane that night that he had died. Felt close to that transition, wish I could be there for this one. Love all the insights you give us on what is going on at the Vatican. I eat up every word you have time to write, Can’t wait to hear more about the Papabili. Rumors around here that Sean O Mally of Boston could be a long shot. He would be an excellent choice but that is probably exactly why he won’t be chosen.

    Write as mich as you have time for. But don’t drive yourself crazy trying to meet the needs of your multiple constituencies.

    1. Dad– I wish you could be here with me. Why don’t you come over in time to see the next Pope get elected and stay for Easter. I have a gorgeous brand new bike — my friend Mario Biassetti (see blog posts on him) gave to me as a gift this week, and you could use it to zip around Rome. I will put a photo of it on my next blog post.
      As far as Cardinal O’Malley is concerned, he is showing up on a lot of papabili lists. Seen as one of the clean and honest Cardinals. But I think he is more appreciated by those who are not in the College of Cardinals–in others words, everyone but those 117 men who will vote. I will have more on him in my papabili post, coming soon. First I need to do a mud-slinging post. It is hard to go near the Vatican these days without getting hit by some flying mud.

  9. Omg! Thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square!!
    Have you really taken this picture of yourself?
    Anyways, i agree with that the Pope Benedict was a bad administrator..!!
    I just love the way that you had transition with all these Conclave details over!!
    Just Awesome!! Keep posting I just love your blog.

  10. OK Trisha – So I made the cheesecake but there were a couple of glitches: no temperature given for the oven, so I went with a low heat for a longer time – 250 degrees F. for an hour, cooked in a bain marie. The cake looked perfect when i took it from the oven, but upon cutting it, the chocolate chips all sank to the bottom, creating a layer of candy on the bottom, with the cheesecake on top. I have a feeling it wasn’t mean to be that way, vero?

    1. Vero!! Sorry about that. Stressed out Mamma that I am, I forgot to mention that you melt the chocolate and blend it with the cream cheese, eggs and condensed milk. As far as the oven is concerned, I think I do it at around 200 degrees celsius and I have a typically Italian very small oven that gets very hot, so it usually gets done very fast — about half an hour–but that one I would play by ear. It sounds like you did that part well, you are clearly more experienced than I am.

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