The Sistine Awaits
by Michael J. Matt
(ROME) Like the
song says—no, there’s really not much news to tell you. The
conclave is all set. Tomorrow is the big day. Solemn Mass will
be offered at 10 am in St Peter’s by the Dean of the College of
Cardinals, Angelo Cardinal Sodano.
In the press briefing today, Father Lombardi said it would be a
“Latin Mass” accompanied by the music of Palestrina. He
indicated also that it would be no longer than 2 hours in
The cardinals will enter the Sistine Chapel at 4:30, and there
will be a vote. However, Father Lombardi suggested that we
should expect black smoke tomorrow.
So, here in Rome it is time to wait and pray that Christ our
King will lead the princes of the Church and that Mary Our Queen
will intervene on behalf of the most faithful prince of the
Church, a man who will have the grace and the courage to do what
must be done: clean out the stables, exorcise the devils, banish
the wolves, and restore holiness to the See of Peter.
Veni Creator Spiritus!
and Predicting Popes
By Michael J. Matt
(ROME) This morning I went to Mass
in St. Peter’s. We’ve been hearing rumors for years that indeed
the Traditional Latin Mass is no longer difficult to find on any
one of its numerous altars, and even every day; but, naturally,
I was eager to confirm this for myself.
wasn’t inside for more than a moment when I discovered a
traditional Mass that had just begun at the prominent Altar of
the Transfiguration, wherein rest the mortal remains of Pope
down and heard Mass, which the celebrant offered to perfection.
After Mass I chatted with him for a moment. He was filling in
for the regular celebrant, but is a diocesan priest from Peoria,
Msgr. Soseman, who (I later learned) enjoys a reputation as a
learned and holy priest here in Rome. He couldn’t have been
more congenial. Yes, he
confirmed, the Traditional Latin Mass is indeed being celebrated
every day in the Basilica of St Peter. Who would ever have
imagined such a thing! Thank you, Pope Benedict.
On Tuesday the conclave will begin
with an hour-long procession of cardinals from the Pauline
Chapel into the Sistine Chapel, beginning at 4:30. No cameras
will be allowed once the doors of the Sistine are closed.
Since that is the case, Marco Bruno
of the Vatican Press Office was kind enough to lead a handful of
journalists into the Sistine Chapel for a final media viewing
before it is sealed (See above photo). I was fortunate enough
to be included in that company. We were able to observe
firsthand the preparations for the momentous event. It was indeed a privilege
and it would be difficult to exaggerate our appreciation for the kindness of everyone
at the Sala Stampa, who, obviously, have a massive job on their
hands with over 5,000 members of the press here in Rome. Video
of our visit to the Sistine is available at
One of the things that struck me while inside the Sistine was the evidence of so many
precautions being taken to prevent breaches of secrecy at the
conclave, which of course would also involve the breaking of a
solemn oath. No effort is being spared to prevent cardinal
electors from having any opportunity to tweet or text hints
about the proceedings of the conclave. In fact, the Sistine
Chapel was being outfitted with devises designed to cut off cell
and internet signals completely.
We’d noticed the same thing in the
Holy See’s media center, which was on virtual Internet lockdown
so as to prevent any cardinal from communicating to the outside
during the congregation meetings last week, especially to
members of his own country’s media which would have the
potential to propel a given cardinal into a media-driven
campaign to become “nominee”, so to speak.
It’s astonishing to think that we’ve
evidently arrived at the point now where some princes of the
Catholic Church cannot necessarily be trusted even to keep their
word on a matter
as serious as a papal conclave. Is this, I wondered, the
very tiny tip of
the iceberg which gives us perhaps some inkling of what Pope
Benedict himself was up against in the months and years leading
up to his decision to abdicate? After all, wolves can't be
trusted under any circumstances.
Why Did Benedict Abdicate?
Perhaps Benedict decided that the good of
Church obliges an aging Pope to abdicate before his mental
faculties begin to fail, especially when surrounded by men who
cannot be trusted even to keep their word. Given all we know about
one or two of them maybe he had
a point in this case. It’s no secret that Pope John Paul, for example,
“did” and “said” all sorts of bizarre things at the end of his
reign that were less than good for the life of the Church. The
so-called “new Rosary” comes to mind.
True, Benedict should have done more
to root out the worst of the troublemakers, but how can anyone ever know what in fact
he did or didn’t do and to what extent he was blocked from doing
more. His power may indeed have ended at the door of his office.
God help the next pope, whoever he is.
When it comes to Benedict’s
abdication, strong expressions of disappointment among faithful
Catholics here in Rome are not hard to find. Street vendors,
Mass goers, priests, even great admirers of the Holy Father will
readily speak of their frustration over the decision.
Even among some of the progressives
there’s a sense that their parade was just rained out. After
Pope John Paul’s last years, when he was really failing, it must
have been great fun being part of the “Pope by Committee”.
In any case, Cardinal Sodano
evidently intends to implement a law that will require future
popes to swear an oath against abdicating. Whatever his
reasons, on the surface at least, this seems like a good idea.
The last thing the Church needs as a rule are mere temporary
occupants of the Chair of Peter, coming and going on a whim.
Benedict’s abdication is not popular
in any camp, save perhaps the rabid liberals, fruits and flakes
(but who cares about that). In fact, there’s an odd little rumor
being bandied about which, while preposterous, doesn’t seem to
want to go away. Supposedly there are some cardinals who would
even try to reelect Benedict. While unthinkable, it speaks to
the level of respect Benedict still enjoys among serious
churchmen that even still he is regarded as best qualified to fix this
colossal Vatican quagmire.
Speaking of that quagmire, the three
cardinals commissioned by Pope Benedict to investigate the
documents leak from the Pope’s own desk last year (which
resulted in the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal) – Cardinals
Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore de Giorgi—are in a
position to become the Big Three in all the deliberations
leading up to the conclave, at least when it comes to who will
absolutely not be the next pope. Since they know better
than anyone who is most unworthy to ascend to the chair of St.
Peter, they presumably have become a force with which to be reckoned
in all the pre-conclave meetings, private or otherwise. After all, they uncovered enough evidence of
corruption and abuse of power and money to fill a 300-page
dossier, which Benedict ordered sealed and presented to the next
So, this is far from over, and
Benedict may yet prove to have been instrumental in cleaning out
those stables. His three confidants and their dossier will
most surely impact the conclave, just as they will provide for
the next pope to be “armed and dangerous” where the worst of the
worst are concerned. Thanks to this dossier, the next pope will
have the goods on everyone involved, which is another reason to
thank God for the butler, Paolo Gabriele.
Gabriele is the man chiefly
responsible for the Vatileaks in the first place; and he’s
insisted that he leaked the information solely for the purposes
of protecting the Pope whom he loved very much. He is a family
man and by all accounts a good and faithful Catholic. He
received not one thin euro for the leak and ended up in prison
for his trouble.
That Pope Benedict promptly pardoned
him at least suggests His Holiness understood and accepts that
the butler was only trying to help expose the wolves Benedict
himself had asked the world to pray against at the very
beginning of his pontificate.
Who’s the Next Pope?
One name that keeps popping up is
Angelo Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice. Leaving aside
whatever negatives he may have on his resume, one thing is
certain: Cardinal Scola is not unfavorable to the Traditional
Latin Mass. Traditionalists here in Rome are thus adamant
that the Church could do worse, and that we would have every
reason to hope for the best, at least where Benedict’s liturgical
restoration projects are concerned. It’s a name to add to the
prayer list, anyway, and an Italian one at that.
I leave you with this image of the
incorrupt St. Pope Pius X which I took yesterday in St. Peter’s.
May he intercede on behalf of the Church he served so well but
which is now undergoing an ignominious passion not unlike that
of her Divine Spouse as He ascended the hill of Calvary.
Veni Creator Spiritus
A Beautiful Reminder
By Michael J. Matt
(ROME) On a cold and rainy night here in
Rome a fairly sizable gathering of Catholics gathered in the
Piazza San Pietro to pray the rosary (in Latin). Led by five or
six young priests in cassocks, they knelt on the wet stones of
the Piazza and begged Mary's intercession, with a final prayer
to St Joseph (this time in Italian). As I was walking back to my
hotel when I discovered them kneeling there in the light rain, I
filmed them for a moment and then joined them. After all, I
suppose that’s exactly where we all need to be during this dark
night for the Church...on our knees, praying for the beloved
Bride of Christ.
As these Italian Catholics
prayed, two white birds appeared out of the night sky and
circled overhead for a few moments in stark contrast to the
gloomy mist. I only noticed them because some tourists standing
nearby began pointing up and exclaiming. Probably means
nothing...but maybe not. You never know about these things,
especially in this town full of relics and the bones of saints.
Tomorrow at 7 am I will be inside St. Peter’s
for the Traditional Latin Mass, which happens every day now
thanks to Pope Benedict’s motu proprio. Over at The Remnant’s
video we shot is available of the beautiful moment
tonight in the Piazza, as well as a clip of two young college
students we interviewed today who rather excitedly reported how
they’ve discovered dozens of traditional Latin Masses going on
in Rome since they’ve been studying over here…including,
astonishingly enough, as many as 7 traditional Masses at one
time taking place on side altars on a daily basis inside the
Basilica of St. Peter itself.
I’m having a difficult time
finding reasons not to be even more grateful to Pope Benedict
for so much of what he attempted to do. Despite our differences
of opinion, I fear we will soon begin to miss him perhaps more
than we ever thought we would.
Conclave Start Date: Tuesday, March 12.
Come Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of the Princes of the Church.
Good News and Bad, Cardinal Tweets a Hint
by Michael J. Matt
(ROME) This afternoon the cardinals will be taking a vote on the
date for the conclave to begin. Shortly after 7 this evening the
announcement will be made. 151 cardinals were present last
night, and the final cardinal has taken the oath, Cardinal
Joseph Maida of Detroit, though he is not an elector.
153 cardinals gathered this morning, and the college accepted
two cardinals’ reasons for being absent from these proceedings,
one for health reasons and the other, Cardinal Keith O’Brien of
Scotland, for “personal reasons”. Therefore the college
officially consists of 115 electors.
Here’s the bad news: Father Lombardi shared his opinion that the
conclave would not start over the weekend, and that it could be
as late as Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.
There’s good reason for the lack of cell signal and Wi-Fi here
in the Holy See’s Media Center at the Paul VI Audience Hall:
The cardinals are holding their secret congregations just
upstairs from the media center. Since the same building is
being used both for the pre-conclave meetings and the press
conferences, the secrecy and integrity of the process depends on
two things: Compliance with the rules and tight internet
restrictions here in the Audience Hall, especially where Wi-Fi
Apparently this precaution is necessary, since one of the
cardinals, Roger Mahony, couldn’t resist the urge to tweet hints
about the start date to his fans back home. Another proud
moment for America here in the Eternal City.
Perhaps in an effort to do “damage control” with the PC police
after having shown images of ladies sewing table cloths and wall
coverings inside the Sistine Chapel in preparation for the
conclave two days ago, Father Lombardi acknowledged
International Women’s Day today by bringing flowers to the press
conference and presenting them to a lady of the press. He said
he was very happy to recognize the women working in the various
offices in the Vatican, and received a smattering of applause
for the effort. Make of that what you will. But it crossed my
mind to wonder if there was a bit of fallout after a female
reported from the States asked a rather pointed question
yesterday about the lack of women in positions of influence here
in the Vatican.
Of course, they're dealing with vipers but our poor suffering
Church really must stop, it seems to me, trying to placate the
On Sunday the cardinals will go to their titular churches here
in Rome to pray and celebrate Mass for the intentions of the
conclave and the new pope.
One final point of interest, the Sala Santa Marta will be used
by the cardinals during the conclave, and the Vatican has
prepared a special apartment for the new pope, where he will
reside for a few weeks after he is elected. This is due to the
fact that the papal apartment is sealed, and they’re also making
some minor renovations inside the papal palace.
Benedict’s Seal Broken, Vatileaks
Our apologies for
not posting more video coverage of these events as
promised. The problem is the Internet connections in
the Eternal City are eternally slow. Wi-Fi is either
severely limited or nonexistent, the latter being the
case even here in the media center at the Paul VI
Audience Hall. And no cell phone coverage, either.
I’m all for a
technological blackout, mind you, even if our work here
is made that much more challenging. Do we really need
our papal conclaves to receive accolades from the media
for their transparency?
In the meantime
please visit our Facebook page where we are able to
upload short clips. Today, for example, we got up close
(if not personal) with Cardinal Walter Kasper, of all
No date was set.
The fifth congregation (meetings of the cardinals during
the pre-conclave stage) began in the morning with prayer
and ended just after the noon hour. 152 cardinals were
present, 114 of which are eligible electors. Two more
cardinals arrived today, one, the cardinal from Warsaw,
is an elector and took the required oath upon his
arrival. The final cardinal elector
Jean-Baptiste Cardinal Pham Minh Mânfrom of
Vietnam had just arrived at the airport at the time of
the press conference. So, the required personnel, if you
will, are all here at last.
perplexing question raised at today’s congregation was
whether or not the College of Cardinals would be sending
a letter of condolences to the government of Venezuela
at the death of Hugo Chavez. Well, the answer (if
anyone wants to know) was yes, the College would indeed,
and Cardinal Angelo Sodano personally drafted the letter
in the name of the College. So, at least that’s done.
Workings of the Pre-Conclave
The cardinals are
spending every day here this week in pre-conclave
discussions. There are no thematic guidelines set for
these discussions, and they can include any number of
issues affecting the Church in various countries (from
persecution of Christians to poverty to ecumenism),
which are cited in relation to the qualities and
experience required of the man who will soon have to
address these issues as pope.
The Cardinals chosen
to speak at these daily discussions represent a wide
cultural and geographical demographic which is supposed
to help the rest of the cardinals determine where the
Church’s greatest needs are and what kind of man is best
suited for the challenge.
If this all seems
somewhat pedantic it is nothing new, and actually makes
sense. It’s just that before the last conclave in 2005
the Church was in mourning, the late Holy Father lay in
state inside St Peter’s, the nine Masses for the
departed Pontiff were being celebrated, etc.—all this
while these same pre-conclave meetings and discussions
were going on among the cardinals. So this is indeed
part of the conclave process.
None of that this
time around, since abdication presents a whole different
set of challenges. So the darkening of the windows in
the Sistine Chapel, for example, to prevent anyone from
catching a glimpse at the goings on inside becomes
newsworthy as the hungry media wait for scraps. They
stood back somewhat awkwardly as the cardinals met last
night not to hold a press conference but rather for the
purpose of praying of the Rosary in the basilica and
holding Eucharistic adoration near the tomb of St. Peter
to ask God’s help in this great task. It was really
quite moving, but what’s a secular journalist to do with
Papal Seal Swept
The seal of Pope
Benedict XVI was chopped up and removed from the Vatican
gardens today, thus offering a symbolic reminder that
the old Pope is no more and a place must now be prepared
for a new one.
Question from the
Press at Today’s Press Conference:
How is secrecy during the
conclave guaranteed? It isn’t
guaranteed. However, the process relies on the Apostolic
Constitution of the Church and the good reason and faith
of the cardinal electors not to reveal anything about
the process or the final selection before the official
announcement. If a cardinal were to break his oath he
would not be excommunicated whereas anyone else guilty
of leaking information would be automatically
Will the cardinals
continue through the weekend if no date has been set by
Friday? Yes, although not on
Sunday since, as Fr. Lombardi remarked, “Sunday is the
day of rest when the cardinals will be celebrating their
Are there any women
involved in the conclave, other than those doing the
sewing of wall hangings and table cloths inside the
Sistine? (Asked rather snidely by a woman reporter)
“There could be other women involved in working with
the cardinals and serving on their staff in some way. A
way to determine this is to see who is present when the
Cardinal takes the oath.” In other words, no! Next
Are the Vatileaks under
discussion at the pre-conclave meetings?
“Our role at these briefing,” said Lombardi, “is to
present the general themes that are discussed in the
congregation meetings. What do we say about Vatileaks
and other things appearing in the Italian press?
Nothing, however the cardinals can speak about anything
they wish during their discussions with one another.”
What are the levels of
secrecy for the conclave?
Three oaths come into play. One is taken by all
cardinals before entering the conclave. Another is taken
later, and has to do with not revealing anything coming
from the congregation meetings themselves. And finally
one more oath is sometimes imposed at the digression of
the cardinals—as, for example, in 2005 when the
cardinals swore that after a certain date they would no
longer give interviews to the press. All of these oaths
are sworn on a Bible.
A New York Times reporter
asked why it takes so long to set the date. Father
Lombardi explained that the purpose of these
pre-conclave meetings is to expedite a very important
process in the life of the Church—the selection of a new
pope. At the conclave itself, there will be two votes
in the morning and two votes in the afternoon. By then
there will be no time for discussion. That discussion
has to happen beforehand—now, in these
congregations—since the conclave itself is a time of
deep prayer and reflection for each cardinal. “Because
of the seriousness of this decision—to elect the
Successor of St. Peter—it is only wise for the cardinals
to use this time before the conclave to the best of
their abilities to discuss and reflect, and when that
reflection has matured the cardinals will then go to the
Sistine chapel and elect the new pope.”
It’s difficult to conjecture with any
degree of certainty about this or that conspiracy theory
that may or may not be influencing the decision as to
when this conclave will begin. My opinion is that the
entire Catholic world—laymen priests, bishops and
cardinals right up to the Curia itself—were taken by
surprise by Benedict’s stunning announcement of
abdication. This conclave is thus struggling to get off
the ground a bit.
Honestly, here in Rome one gets the
impression that the slight delay has much more to do
with coordinating all these men and their schedules, as
well as addressing procedural issues, than with any
sinister conspiracy. This is Italy, after all, where
even the trains don’t usually start on time.
It seems best to pray for a good outcome
and leave the conspiracy theorizing for another day,
hoping all the while that the old adage holds true: Good
things come to those who wait.
Veni Creator Spiritus!
No Date, Sistine Chapel Being Prepped
Michael J. Matt
(ROME) At the main press conference today here in the Vatican,
the only news was that there isn't any. Father Federico
Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press office, announced
simply that no date has been set for the conclave to begin.
There are two cardinals yet to arrive, apparently, but all
indications are that they will be here tomorrow come hell or
high water. There was a groan throughout the media center (in
the Paul VI Audience Hall) at this announcement of no date, as
the press is getting as anxious as everyone else to get this
"show on the road".
In lieu of the much anticipated announcement of a start date,
however, Fr. Lombardi did explain various aspects of the prep
work going on right now behind closed doors. The construction
of the elevation platform, for example, where the cardinals will
gather, has indeed begun; evidently there are not one but two
stoves to be used to create the smoke over the Sistine
Chapel--one for the burning of the actual ballots that the
cardinals will cast and the other that will burn chemicals to
produce the requisite white or black smoke; and then the amusing
but less than fascinating factoid that some very nice Italian
ladies are even now sewing feverishly away on the wall
hangings that will conceal the glories of the Sistine throughout
the conclave. Here
you can see a few shots of the
press center including some video feed of those very same
Italian ladies—sewing away while the world press looks on.
Kind of cute but obviously a pretty slow news day.
Ladies sewing isn’t exactly what the world is waiting for but as
there’s just not much hard news to report until this conclave
begins, it’s the best we’ve got, and neither Father Lombardi nor
anyone else can change that—which, by the way, does make this
massive gathering of the waiting world media seem somewhat
comical. The selection of the Catholic pope is causing
everyone—even ABC, CNN, et al --to patiently wait, hat in hand,
for the princes of the Church to go about God’s business. Who
says the Catholic Church doesn’t matter anymore… or that it’s
just one religion among many. Yeah, right!
Perhaps tomorrow will be the day. Please God, and Come Holy
Get Out Those Beads
by Michael Matt
(ROME)The “buzz” here in Rome is
less than encouraging. There’s a lot of it, and it’s generally
about the pressing need for a “pastoral” pope (read
“politician”) who will discover new ways to “share the gospel”
(read: who won’t offend anyone) who can reach out to our
non-Catholic brothers and sisters in a more meaningful way
(read: who will put ecumenism at the top of his to do list) who
understands the pressing need to elevate the “role of women and
minorities” in the Church (read: who’s a raving liberal) and who
can tackle the tough issues facing the Church, such as what to
do about divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive
the sacraments (read: who thinks the time has come to “update”
Catholic moral theology). It’s just “buzz” of course, but I for
one would feel a lot better if there was less talk about all
that and a bit more about the desperate need for the Church to
abandon novelty at every level and restore her own Catholic
identity, beginning with a complete liturgical overhaul. Not
much talk, by the way, about Cardinal Ranjith or even Cardinal
Burke. One thing’s certain, those who didn’t like Pope Benedict
because he wasn’t traditional enough may soon be longing for the
good old days of Papa Ratzinger… before Pope Ravasi or Pope
Schonborn reversed eight years of Pope Benedict's liturgical
reforms. This will be the first pope, let’s not forget, who
will have virtually no priestly experience from back in the
preconciliar Church. In other words, this one may not even
remember the good old days…much less long for their return. The
Holy Ghost has surprised the conclaves of the past many times,
however, so let’s not lose hope. But heaven's sake, let's get
out those beads and pray.
Remnant goes to Rome
the secular media now having tasted blood, prompting a feeding
frenzy against the Catholic Church that includes 24/7 demands
that the conclave acknowledge the need for a young, liberal pope
to succeed the stodgy old conservative, Benedict XVI—one who
will lift the ban on women priests, gay marriage, contraception,
etc.,—we have decided to go to Rome to do everything humanly
possible to elevate the traditionalist influence in defense of
sanity during the conclave. We will be posting updates
here as well as commentary on Remnant TV (see YouTube’s TheRemnantvideo channel) and Facebook
We will be in Rome beginning Monday March 4.