Cardinals taking part in the closed-door discussions ahead of the election of the next pope have asked to know the contents of the confidential report into alleged financial and sexual impropriety in the Vatican.
Last autumn Pope Emeritus Benedict commissioned three elderly cardinals to investigate what lay behind the so-called "VatiLeaks" scandal in which confidential papal documents were leaked to an Italian journalist.
The Vatican on 25 February announced that the report's contents were "known only to His Holiness" and would be made available exclusively to the new pope. It also said the report revealed "the limitations and imperfections of a human nature that are found in every organisation".
A cardinal, who spoke to the news agency Reuters on the condition of anonymity yesterday, said the contents of the report came up during yesterday morning's session but declined to say if the requests to be briefed were made in the formal sessions or informal coffee break discussions or both. "They want to be briefed on the report," he added, "but it is a very long report and technically it is secret."
Due to their ages, the three cardinals who compiled the report may take part in the preliminary discussions but not the conclave at which the next pope will be elected.
Last month the Italian magazine Panorama published an article that claimed that the contents of the report had influenced the Pope's decision to resign.
Meanwhile the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said today that the cardinals had not fixed a start date for the conclave.
Four cardinal electors who are expected to take part have still not arrived in Rome: Karl Lehmann, who is bishop of Mainz, Kazimierz Nycz, archbishop of Warsaw, and from Asia, John Tong of Hong Kong and Jean-Baptist Pham of Ho Chi Min City.
Of the 148 cardinals who have arrived so far, 110 are below the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote. According to the newly revised rules of the conclave, a start date cannot be set until all of the electors are present.
At this morning's session 11 cardinals gave brief addresses on topics that included the activity of the Holy See, relations between the Roman curia and dioceses, the Second Vatican Council, and the new evangelisation.
The cardinals have also sent a telegram to the Pope Emeritus, thanking him for his Petrine ministry. Sent by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, it read: "The Cardinal Fathers, gathered at the Vatican for the General Congregations in view of the next Conclave, send you their devoted greetings and express their renewed gratitude for all your brilliant petrine ministry and for your example of generous pastoral care for the good of the Church and of the world."
"With their gratitude they hope to represent the recognition of the entire Church for your tireless work in the vineyard of the Lord."
The telegram concluded by expressing the cardinals' trust in the Pope Emeritus' prayers for them and for the whole Church.
Meanwhile the Sistine Chapel is to close to tourists from this afternoon so that it can be prepared for hosting the 115 cardinal electors. That includes sweeping it for bugging devices that would enable anyone to listen in on the cardinals' discussions. It has been decided that for the next two days, general congregations will take place only in the mornings and there will be no evening sessions.
Above: Cardinals arrive at this morning's General Congregation in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall. CNS/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters