The College of Cardinals that will elect the next pope has cut off formal communications with the news media.
The move comes after its private deliberations emerged in the Italian press, raising the specter of another leaking scandal similar to the one that shadowed the last year in office of Pope Benedict XVI.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has organised news conferences with American cardinals in recent days, said that concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers.
According to the Washington Post, she added that as a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.
The decision, communicated only an hour before a news conference was scheduled with American cardinals, marked a quick end to a brief period of openness on the part of the Americans, who had said they hoped to keep reporters as informed as possible without breaking vows of secrecy, the report said.
The Vatican declined to specify who in the college expressed opposition to the news briefings.
According to the report, a report on Wednesday by Italy’s most authoritative Vatican reporter, La Stampa’s Andrea Tornielli, disclosed details of the cardinals’ private deliberations.
The personal talks included the revelation that they had called for reforms of the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that governs the Catholic Church.
They had also asked for more information about the leaking of papal correspondence, a scandal known as VatiLeaks that engulfed the Vatican last year.
Tornielli also reported that embattled Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, accused of covering up sexual abuse by priests, had spoken, that cardinals called for better communications between the pope and the heads of the various church departments, and that some cardinals wanted to extend the preliminary talks into next week.
According to Vatican officials and experts, the media blackout might be more than a crackdown in reaction to the leak.
It could also have a political dimension. One Vatican official speaking on background said that Italian cardinals, some of whom stand to benefit most from a quick conclave, had expressed misgivings about the American news conferences, during which US prelates articulated what they were looking for in a pope, the report added.