Cardinals Discuss Church Finances

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Times

April 12, 2005

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- With less than a week to go before conclave, cardinals began serious discussions about the state of the Roman Catholic Church in the world, including its finances, as they made preparations Tuesday for electing a new pontiff.

Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, the Vatican's economic chief, briefed the College of Cardinals on the consolidated financial statements for 2004 and on some key points for 2005, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

It was the second day in a row the cardinals discussed church finances during their pre-conclave meetings -- an indication of the seriousness of the issue confronting the ``princes of the church'' as they try to determine who is best to lead the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics after the death of Pope John Paul II.

Navarro-Valls did not give details of the discussions, saying only that the cardinals ``began an exchange of ideas on the general situation of the church in the world and on the Holy See.''

Before their self-imposed gag rule, cardinals had expressed concern about the decline of the church in parts of North America and Europe, where church attendance and vocations have been slipping over the years.

In the Southern Hemisphere, cardinals also have urged greater attention to fighting poverty and halting the advance of Protestant and evangelical churches siphoning away Roman Catholics.

In a statement, Navarro-Valls said the cardinals also discussed more mundane topics Tuesday, including how they will be transported from their Vatican hotel, Domus Sanctae Marthae, to the Sistine Chapel and back each day starting April 18, the first day of the conclave when they are all sworn to secrecy.

The two buildings are a few hundred yards from one another, and the route takes cardinals back behind St. Peter's along a road ringed on one side by the Vatican gardens.

The camerlengo -- the Vatican official responsible for running Vatican finances and property during the period between popes -- also briefed the cardinals on the ``definitive closing'' of the papal apartment, as is required after the death of a pope, Navarro-Valls said.

The Vatican, meanwhile, was gearing up for another round of crowds. Starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday, the public will be able to visit John Paul's simple tomb in the grotto underneath St. Peter's Basilica, placed in the ground and covered by a plain white-marble slab etched with his name and the dates of his pontificate.

Cardinals were expected to visit the tomb as a group Tuesday evening following the fifth of nine Masses of mourning for John Paul, celebrated by Brazilian Cardinal Eugenio Sales de Araujo.

Outside in St. Peter's Square, special edition Vatican stamps went on sale Tuesday. The ``vacant see'' stamps mark the period between John Paul's death and the election of his successor, and collectors were snapping them up.

``The more the pope is worth, the more the stamps are worth,'' said Giovanna Turitto, a 72-year-old retiree waiting to buy stamps.

The Vatican released final figures of the crowds who flooded Rome last week: 3 million pilgrims visited Rome in the week after John Paul's death; 21,000 people entered St. Peter's each hour; 8,000 volunteers were on call and 1,000 special trains were added to bring pilgrims to the city.

So far, the cardinals have been careful to abide by a pledge of silence regarding all things related to the conclave. However, at the end of Monday's meeting, Indian Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil was quoted as telling the APcom news agency he believed John Paul's successor would be chosen quickly.

``We'll have John Paul II's successor in a couple of days, maximum three,'' he was quoted as telling APcom. ``In my opinion, it will be a rather short conclave. At least it seems to me these are the prospects.''

Chicago Cardinal Francis George made an indirect reference to the conclave during a Mass he celebrated Tuesday morning for pilgrims of his archdiocese. He apologized for not having spent more time with them, joking: ``I have other things to do, you know.''