April 19, 2005

Ex-Hardwick man covers vote

Telegram & Gazette


From a window at the MSNBC television studio in Rome, Paul Wilkes watched yesterday as the first day of the first papal conclave of the new millennium ended with black smoke wafting from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney about 8 p.m. Rome time.

The signal meant the cardinals had failed to reach the required two-thirds majority in their first vote for a leader to replace Pope John Paul II.

Mr. Wilkes, a Catholic author, journalist and former Hardwick selectman who is covering the proceedings for the Beliefnet.com Web site, said he’d be surprised if a new pope is voted in before tomorrow.

“We’re going to have a pope by Wednesday or Thursday,” Mr. Wilkes, who now lives in South Carolina, said by telephone from Rome.

While speculation about the next pope has centered around conservatives such as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, Mr. Wilkes thinks the cardinals will pick more of a moderate to succeed John Paul, who died April 2 after 26 years as pope.

With church attendance dropping off steeply in Europe and Catholicism catching on rapidly in Latin America and Asia, the church needs a pope who can unify the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics. “The cardinals are trying to figure out who’s got the reach, who can bring the fragmented parts together,” Mr. Wilkes said.

In recent days, all manner of Catholic faithful have flocked to Rome and Vatican City to witness the succession.

The visitors have included a vocal contingent of American anti-clergy abuse activists who have come to spread word of the American clergy abuse crisis to Catholics from parts of the world that have not been as affected by the scandal.

They include Douglas native Philip J. Saviano, who says he was molested in the 1960s at St. Denis Parish in East Douglas by the Rev. David A. Holley, who is serving a 275-year prison sentence in New Mexico for child rape.

Mr. Saviano and other leaders of the national group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests have been holding daily press conferences and protesting the high-profile Vatican role of former Boston Archbishop Bernard F. Law, who has admitted that he did not discipline priests accused of abusing youths in Boston-area parishes.

Mr. Saviano, 52, who now lives in Boston, said in a telephone interview from Rome that he hopes the next pope will be more open about the problem of pedophile priests, and will also allow discussion of changes supported by some Catholics, such as opening the priesthood to women and allowing clergy to marry.

“It would be nice if we had someone who could let a little bit of life in and listen to alternative views,” Mr. Saviano said. “But I’m not optimistic. Maybe it will have to wait until the next pope after that.”

Despite the ripple of news coverage that Mr. Saviano and his colleagues have been able to stir up, some observers say clergy abuse is not likely to be a major issue in the conclave.

That is because the problem has mostly been an American phenomenon, owing largely to the in-depth coverage devoted to it by newspapers such as the Boston Globe, Mr. Wilkes said.

“I don’t think it’s on the front burner,” said Mr. Wilkes, who wrote a 1993 article in the New Yorker magazine about the Rev. Ronald D. Provost, a former priest at a Barre church who was convicted of taking nude photographs of a 10-year-old boy.

Many of the Worcester Diocese’s 350,000 Catholics have been “waiting and praying” as the process to choose a new pope proceeds, said diocesan spokesman Raymond L. Delisle.

“There’s certainly anticipation. It’s been such a long time with Pope John Paul, a lot of us have never experienced this before or were very young when it happened,” he said. The top priority for John Paul II’s successor is going to be to promote “whatever supports the dignity of the individual.”

Posted by kshaw at April 19, 2005 05:35 AM