Church Chat: Despite Vow, Some Cardinals Tell Press About Conclave

By: (AP) Whatever happened to the sacred oath of secrecy?

Cardinals were sworn to silence about everything that happened during deliberations in the Sistine Chapel to choose a new pope. But within hours of the conclave, some German cardinals -- delighted about the choice of their countryman, Joseph Ratzinger -- spilled some of the secrets.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner told reporters Tuesday night that the new Pope Benedict XVI was elected on the fourth ballot -- the first of the afternoon session. He added that Ratzinger got more than the required two-thirds support.

"It was done without an electoral battle, and without propaganda," the archbishop of Cologne told reporters at a residence for German priests in Vatican City. "For me it was a miracle."

There was spontaneous applause as soon as cardinals realized Ratzinger had won, Meisner said.

"And I burst out crying," he added.

Meisner and three other German cardinals spent about 45 minutes answering questions about the conclave and didn't seem worried about commenting despite their vow of silence -- which Ratzinger led himself, as dean of the College of Cardinals, when the conclave began Monday.

One by one, cardinals filed up to a Book of the Gospels and placed their right hands on it. Ratzinger's admonition read, in part: "We promise and swear not to break this secret in any way...." To guard against high-tech leaks by cellular phones, there were even electronic jamming devices under a false floor in the chapel.

One query the cardinals wouldn't answer is exactly how many votes Ratzinger garnered.

"We've already said enough," said Cardinal Georg Maximilian Sterzinsky, the archbishop of Berlin.

Meisner gave a few clues about the new pope's emotional reaction on being named. He said Benedict XVI looked "a little forlorn" when he went to change into his papal vestments in the Room of Tears -- which earned its nickname because many new pontiffs get choked up there, realizing the enormity of their mission.

"I was worried, because when he came back dressed in his white vestments, I thought he had forgotten his skullcap," Meisner said. "But then I realized his hair is as white as his skullcap."

Meisner added: "By the time dinner came around, Ratzinger was looking much better and very much like the pope."

The new pope asked cardinals to dine together on bean soup, cold cuts, a salad, and fruit, Meisner said. The nuns who prepare their meals didn't have time to plan a special menu, so there were only two special treats -- ice cream and champagne.

Some U.S. cardinals also offered insight about why the vote went to Ratzinger.

New York Cardinal Edward Egan, who worked for years in Rome and at the Vatican, was asked whether the new pope had the support of Catholics in Latin America and Africa.

"Obviously, he must have had support from the Third World," he responded. Going into the vote, there was much speculation about the possibility of a pope from the developing world, where most Roman Catholics live.

Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, who worked for more than two decades in Vatican diplomacy, said the decision to choose Ratzinger was not made in the days leading up to the conclave or as a result of Ratzinger's moving homily at Pope John Paul II's funeral.

"Decisions like this are not made on how a person impresses you in the last five minutes, the last hours, the last days," he said.

Rigali said the cardinals in the conclave thought about what John Paul had accomplished. Ratzinger was close to the late pope.

"We were looking for a successor of [St.] Peter," the first pope, Rigali said. "We were looking for a successor of John Paul II. All of us were talking about the incredible qualities of John Paul II, knowing the world is calling him 'The Great.'"


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