Returning to Rome very much feels like coming home. I love the uneven cobblestones, the surprising views around every corner, the sacred and the profane mixed up everywhere you turn. This time, however, there is a kind of anticipation in the air that gives one the impression the entire city is holding its breath.
As my driver from the airport told me when I asked how Rome was these days: "Senza Papa, senza governo, senza nulla." Rome is without a pope, but without a government also, thanks to the recent and inconclusive elections in which a comedian and a convict (Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi) have succeeded in tying the results up in knots. (The Economist had the two of them on the cover with the headline "Send in the Clowns.")
Rome is unsettled, and so are the journalists who are trying to make sense of the approach to the conclave and the election of a new pope when there appears to be no front runners (or at least no front runners that everyone can agree on.) Certain cardinals – Angelo Scola from Milan, Odilo Scherer from São Paolo, to name two – are on most lists, but the number of maybes runs to 12, 15 or more.
The media blackoutThe big news was the announcement a few days ago that there would be no more public statements by cardinals. This was widely interpreted as a hit against the Americans. The American cardinals clearly have the most sophisticated media apparatus here in Rome (bravo to Sister Mary Ann Walsh (http://usccbmedia.blogspot.it/) and her team), and the cardinals were making themselves available for daily press conferences that were attracting international attention. With the excuse that there were too many "leaks" in the Italian media (coverage by Andrea Tornielli (http://2.andreatornielli.it/) from La Stampa, a Turin daily, was widely cited, fairly or not), the cardinals – which means the U.S. cardinals – were effectively silenced.
There were two consequences of this decision: First, the Americans suddenly looked like heroes, voices of transparency and openness. It further confirmed that they were a force united and engaged. Said Tornielli in Sunday’s paper: "As one has seen from the declarations of recent days, this time the U.S. Church is destined to have a greater role than in the past" in the selection of the pope, both with its own candidates and with its presence.
Second, journalists, like nature, abhor a vacuum. With the Americans silenced and everyone else lying low, the gossip and the leaks assume even greater importance.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.