Pope 'serene' as Rome braces for conclave

Rankled Catholics protest Cardinal Mahony at papal election

Pope 'serene' as Rome braces for conclave

Rome, February 19 - Pope Benedict XVI appeared to be in a calm state of mind on Tuesday, the third day of a week-long Lenten retreat he entered after announcing he will step down as pontiff last week, while Church officials, city administrators in Rome and the Catholic world at large braced for a series of events leading up to the election of his successor. The outgoing pope is doing a series of spiritual exercises along with other senior Church figures at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace until Saturday. The exercises have been prepared by the president of the pontifical council for culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who is posting details about them via Twitter. Two of Tuesday's meditations, for example, focused on the figure of the Messiah as interpreted in several Psalms. People who met the pope during the retreat said he seemed serene and relaxed, while at the same time attentive and concentrated on the exercises, Vatican sources said. Meanwhile Rome's hoteliers braced for a deluge of visitors to the city during the conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope next month. Roughly 10,000 more people than normal are expected to flock to Rome's hotels in that period, according to the head of Rome's hoteliers' association. "That translates to 10% more than a typical March," said Rome Federalberghi President Giuseppe Roscioli after a meeting Friday with Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno. "There are about 100,000 hotel beds available in Rome, so we'll have no accomodation problems. In any event this is low season. Reservations are already being made, especially around the Vatican". The Vatican has yet to announce a date for the start of the conclave, making it difficult for out-of-towners to plan. It is expected to commence mid-March, possibly in time to install a pope before the start of Holy Week on March 24, Palm Sunday. Meanwhile American Cardinal Roger Mahony sparked protest from a large number of Catholics Tuesday when he suggested that he planned to attend the conclave despite a growing scandal over his alleged role in covering up sex abuse by priests in his former Los Angeles archdiocese. The deluge of opposition found expression on social networks and media blogs after the 76-year-old ex-archbishop posted a message on his Twitter account asking for prayer so that "we might elect the best pope for the Church of today and tomorrow" following the resignation of Benedict XVI with effect from the end of this month. "#Mahony Cardinal, please, stay home!" said one Twitter user, using a hashtag to identify the word Mahony as a trending topic. #Mahony voting for a new pope rankles some Catholics. I can see why!" said another. Mahony will be questioned under oath February 23 about how he handled Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, a visiting Mexican priest who allegedly molested 26 children in the Los Angeles archdiocese in 1987 during his tenure. The deposition Saturday will be the first since a court order forced the archdiocese to release thousands of pages of confidential files on over 120 priests accused of sex abuse, showing how Mahony and other top officials shielded them in order to contain the scandal. Earlier Tuesday Cardinal Velasio De Paolis said only a person in high authority could advise Mahony not to attend the conclave. However numerous Catholics said they hoped the cardinal might have the "good taste" to step aside. In response to an online poll launched by the influential Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana on Monday some believers however defended the position of the former archbishop, arguing that the outcome of a conclave is led by the Holy Spirit and that alleged 'sinners' should be allowed to attend. Many Vatican experts suspect that the numerous priest-sex-abuse scandals were among the reasons behind Benedict's decision to retire. The pope, 85, said Monday that his "strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry". Top French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran on Tuesday applauded Benedict XVI's decision and called for a young successor to the throne of St Peter. Speaking with French agency I.Media, Tauran said the outgoing pope's decision to step down showed "great moral nobility". The new pope, he said, should be "young", a man of "dialogue", and he should be capable of imparting "the contents of Church teaching" and of launching a reform of the Roman Curia "to make it more coordinated". When asked how young the pope should be, Tauran said "more or less 65, but also 70 if he's in good health". Tauran, 69, is the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and is considered one of the most influential members of the upcoming conclave to elect a new pontiff. In his role as senior cardinal-deacon, Tauran is in charge of introducing the new pope on the balcony of St. Peter's with the famous Latin words 'Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus papam'. (I announce to you a great joy: We have a pope).

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