Editor’s note: During the next few weeks as we watch an historic episode in our Church’s history unfold, I’m thrilled to be able share writing from our friends at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Today, we have another firsthand account from Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the media relations director for the USCCB. Enjoy! LMH
An exciting day started with La Stampa, an Italian daily, running a story that violated the confidentiality of the General Congregation. It named names and reported who said what. I heard cardinals were upset, and one even stopped the bus to the Synod Hall at a newsstand to buy a copy of La Stampa. We steeled ourselves for the inevitable: a shut down of interviews. It happened in 2005 too.
We learned there were no interviews an hour before our daily briefing was to begin so sent out a quick e-mail saying we were cancelling because the General Congregation said no more interviews. A flurry of emails came back, and phone calls. Meanwhile, at the Vatican Press Office briefing, repeated questions from media promoted Father Thomas Rosica to take out his mobile phone and read my message.
Theories developed. A clash of cultures between U.S. and Italian media? Could be. We didn’t like the crowd of people hanging around after our briefing yesterday? Not true. A cardinal bumping into a reporter doesn’t lead to a cancelled briefing. By morning there will be other theories. Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, our USCCB staffer who has been on CNN and is now storm-bound in Washington, emailed to ask if this was a snow cancellation.
We got out statements fast and gave an interview to Rachel Zoll of AP to get the story straight before oddball ideas begin to circulate. I compared the shut down to the old Catholic school style of one kid talks and everyone stays after school. I hope my nun pals don’t want my head for that image, but several people already are enjoying it.
Our briefings were popular because we were the only ones other than the Vatican doing them and the vast number of American media work in English and Spanish. We also brought our cardinals who proved to be both insightful and funny. We’ll continue briefings, but without cardinals, to help U.S. media especially cover this exciting moment in the church.
The most unusual tweet perhaps was the one from Andrea Tornielli, author of the La Stampa article in question. Used to having an inside edge, he tweeted about the U.S. media events, “ Silenziati I cardinali americani: basta briefing alternativi.” (Silence the American cardinals: enough of the alternative briefing.)
On more significant news, we’re all happy the cardinal from Vietnam is to arrive tomorrow. With all the voters here, we might get a date for the start of the conclave. Media at home are trying to figure out when to return to Rome.
Kim Lawton of the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly arrived for the press conference that was not to be, so I gave her an interview because she has to file tonight for her weekend show. Just arriving, she had zilch to go with and the pouring rain didn’t lead to man in the square musings.
Cardinals had a Holy Hour tonight at St. Peter’s and you can feel a seriousness moving in. Yesterday at the briefing they talked about this being their most important action of their lives. It is an awesome responsibility.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is media relations director for the USCCB.
Copyright 2013 Sister Mary Ann Walsh