Vatican City: Cardinals said on Monday they wanted to be briefed about the true state of Vatican dysfunction before they elect the next pope, evidence that the scandal over leaked papal documents is casting a shadow over the conclave and setting up one of the most unpredictable papal elections in recent times.
The Vatican said 103 of the 115 voting-age cardinals attended Monday`s inaugural session of the pre-conclave meetings, at which cardinals organize the election process, discuss the problems of the church and get to know one another before voting.
The red-capped "princes" of the church took an oath of secrecy and decided to pen a letter of "greeting and gratitude" to Benedict XVI, whose resignation has thrown the church into turmoil amid a torrent of scandals inside and out of the Vatican.
"I would imagine that as we move along there will be questioning of cardinals involved in the governing of the Curia to see what they think has to be changed, and in that context anything can come up," said US Cardinal Francis George.
The Vatican`s administrative shortcomings were thrust into stark relief last year with the publication of documents stolen from Benedict XVI`s desk that exposed the petty infighting, turf battles and allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church.
The pope`s butler was convicted of stealing the papers and leaking them to a journalist; he eventually received a papal pardon.
The emeritus pope, meanwhile, remained holed up at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home while the machinations to pick his successor kick into gear in Rome.
No date has been set yet for the conclave and one may not be decided on for a few more days; the dean of the College of Cardinals has said a date won`t be finalized until all the cardinals have arrived.
Twelve more voting-age cardinals were en route to Rome; some had previously scheduled speaking engagements, others were due in later Monday or in the coming days, the Vatican said.
Speculation has mounted that the conclave might begin around March 11, with the aim of having a new pope installed by March 17, the Sunday before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week.