On American openness and papal predictions

Brian Bethune’s latest from Rome
The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, headed to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and flew to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Conventional wisdom holds that cardinal electors will always shy away from an American pababile for fear of too close a bond with the last superpower. But maybe that’s only an excuse, and what really irritates them is that unstoppable American openness with the media, a certain national problem with keeping secrets.

Then again, maybe cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York already knew he didn’t have a chance to be pope when he sent that cheerful letter to all the priests of his diocese, predicting a new pontiff by Thursday and an “inaugural mass on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the Church Universal, a holiday, and Father’s Day here in Italy.” He also thinks ”the gentle Roman rain” which has half-drowned the rest of us on a couple of occasions ”is a sign of the grace of the Holy Spirit coming upon us.”

The Americans have actually been a blinding ray of sunshine here, willing to answer questions and openly acknowledge problems the Church has to face; at least they were, until shut down last week by a Vatican bureacracy that encourages prelates to think twice before reponding to, ”What is your name?” In that regard, perhaps the more things change…

Early this morning an elderly cardinal, freed not just from the burden of voting but the close observation of Swiss Guards, wandered the streets near Saint Peter’s Square in full scarlet regalia, accompanied by only one young monsignor, and happily posing for photos with the the African streetsellers who stopped him. He did, however, respond to all questions about his name with, ”Espagna.” The cardinal was strangely reminiscent of an equally elderly man at the square last night, who shrugged when asked who should be pope, but had a firm opinion–written on a banner–as to what the new papal name should be: Francesco I Papa.