It's What Cardinals Do
Apparently, just before the last Conclave Cardinal Murphy O’Connor held a meeting for Anglophone Cardinals at the Venerable English College, just opposite in the window of a restaurant in full view sat Cardinal Pell ostentatiously noting the names of those who turned up, he himself had not been invited. Pell was obviously totting up who was in Murphy O’Connor’s gang and Murphy O’Connor was obviously trying to extend its influence. These meetings were happening at colleges, universities, and interestingly, embassies through out the pre-Conclave period they are as much part of the pre-Conclave season as the official gatherings, the Congregations, organised by the Cardinal Dean, nothing in law forbids them and little governs how they operate, except good taste.
In the time of John Paul’s long period of dying they were happening on a more ad hoc basis over a much longer period, similarly they were taking place from the period of the announcement of Benedict’s resignation.
There are still stories going the around on the internet that the canvassing that took place before the last Conclave somehow invalidated the election of Pope Francis, I can’t emphasise enough it really is nonsense. What happens during the election is bound by strict rules to maintain secrecy but they govern Conclave itself, those thinks that happen behind locked doors, presumably to stop the faithful from being scandalised and protect the new Papacy beginning in the shadow of scandal.
Certainly Pope John Paul established rules governing what happened inside the Conclave, the new rules were necessary because no longer were elderly Cardinals to be literally locked away and living in the makeshift unhygienic airless garrets and galleries in and around the Sistine Chapel. This is why John Paul built Santa Martha, it was for Cardinal Electors, not another Papal residence. Using it means Cardinals are bussed from there to the Sistine Chapel and rather than being served cold food by a few stewards, mainly clerics, the whole lay staff of what is really a luxurious hotel are employed, together with an increased gang of others to ensure they are kept incommunicado. Modern technology of course makes this much more difficult than a hundred years ago.
Amidst the changed circumstance John Paul’s rules attempt to maintain a retreat like atmosphere in the Conclave and for its proper ordering, and yes there are rules against causing scandal to the faithful by openly soliciting votes for individuals; putting up posters or adverts on the television for example but what actually happens or did happen is bound by secrecy on pain of excommunication, so no-one really knows.
Before the Conclave, especially during the period of Congregations, their Eminences are free to do what they always have done. During the Conclave today they are less likely to be intimidated by foreign armies or starved into making a decision and who nowadays would even contemplate removing the roof of the Sistine Chapel if they were dilatory in their decision making.
The rest of the time, what do Cardinals do? Years ago I asked the disagreeable Cardinal Daneels this in an attempt to make conversation, his reply was short, “We look for the next Pope”. It would be a fool who thinks that when Cardinals meet they do not talk about the state of the Church and who might best deal with it, or most probably who are the most unlikely candidates to solve its problems. It would be a dereliction of duty if Cardinals didn’t do this, or if they didn’t introduce to their friends someone who they thought might be overlooked in the next Conclave.
I hardly think that Cardinals Mueller, Burke and Sarah discuss the weather and the use of the doctoral birreta in the Rite of Braga or kitten pictures on Facebook when they are in private conversation, or at least most of us would hope not. One of the reasons for Cardinals coming to Rome other than being a splash of scarlet at Papal events is to discuss the succession and lobby for or against their preferred candidates with all the scheming and guile one would expect of high ranking clerics.