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American cardinals cancel popular press briefings ahead of conclave

VATICAN CITY The Vatican's penchant for secrecy has won out over American-style transparency.

The U.S. cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect the next pope canceled their popular daily press briefings Wednesday after some details of the secret proceedings under way ahead of the election were purportedly leaked to Italian newspapers.

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The Vatican denied it had exerted any pressure on the American cardinals to keep quiet. But the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, made clear that the Holy See considered this week's pre-conclave meetings, in which cardinals are discussing the problems of the church, to be secret and part of a solemn process to choose a pope.

"The College (of Cardinals) as a whole has decided to maintain a line of an increasing degree of reserve," he said.

The spokeswoman for the U.S. cardinals, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said Wednesday's briefing was canceled after concern was expressed by other cardinals Wednesday morning "about leaks of confidential proceedings reported in Italian newspapers."

She said as a precaution, all interviews had been canceled.

Later Wednesday, Walsh issued another statement, saying that all cardinals, not just the Americans, would stop giving interviews "due to concerns over accounts being reported in the Italian press, which breached confidentiality."

It was unclear whether all of the cardinals were informed of the change. Not long before Walsh's latest statement, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa told reporter Jay Levine of CBS Chicago station WBBM-TV that the cardinals were simply reminded to be careful not to divulge confidential information from the meetings.

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At least one American cardinal would be heard from ahead of the conclave.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, considered a papal contender, would still conduct his weekly radio show, which is broadcast live on SiriusXM's "The Catholic Channel," Wednesday from the North American College, Dolan spokesman Joseph Zwilling told reporter Tony Aiello of CBS New York station WCBS-TV.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Walsh said Italy's La Stampa newspaper had on Monday and Tuesday reported details of comments individual cardinals made in the closed-door meetings that were cited as a violation of their oath of secrecy. That prompted the decision to observe a media blackout.

She dismissed speculation that the Vatican and cardinals from other countries simply didn't appreciate the openness of the Americans, saying: "I don't think anyone was angry at the Americans, they were angry at La Stampa."

"In true old-style Catholic school teacher fashion, someone talks and everybody stays after school," Walsh said. She added that the Americans had been assured that the Vatican was pleased with their briefings.

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Italian newspapers and international media, including The Associated Press, have reported on the unique briefings the Americans were providing, and how they contrasted with the near-silence from other cardinals and the comparatively sedate Vatican briefings.

In a press conference Tuesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Texas and Sean O'Malley of Boston held a lively and informative 30-minute chat with some 100 reporters and two dozen television crews from around the globe.

They revealed no details of their closed-door discussions. But they nevertheless provided journalists with insight about the process from two people actually involved.

"We're trying to help people have a greater understanding of what the process is and the procedures and background information," O'Malley told reporters. "Right now that's about all we can share with you but we're happy to try to do it."

The Americans were the only cardinals who were holding daily briefings; other individual cardinals have given occasional interviews to individual media.

Separately Wednesday, the Vatican said only one voting-age cardinal remained absent, Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man. Lombardi said he was expected Thursday, meaning a date for the start of the conclave could be decided then.