The Papal Transition: Stories Before The Conclave

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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

Sede VacanteToday was somewhat calm, although at 7:30 p.m. media were asking if cardinals will offer Mass tomorrow (Sunday). Archbishop Gus diNoia is celebrating a Mass during which some seminarians will be admitted to the order of acolyte, one of the steps toward ordination of the priesthood. I expect a few cardinals will be there so CNN was invited to film it for B-roll.

Corriere della Serra, a major Rome daily, interviewed me about our media operation here. I explained that much of our work at this time is coordination because media requests are coming in by the hundreds for each of the cardinal electors. She asked how Vatileaks affected U.S. Catholics. I explained some saw it as a curiosity but most didn’t think of it at all. In response to her question about the sexual abuse crisis, I acknowledged that that issue drew much attention and concern. I also explained the vibrancy of our parishes and that U.S Catholics attend weekly Mass at a much higher rate than they do in Europe, though the U.S, bishops wish it were much higher. Most people’s view of church is formed in their parish.

Don, Mar and I visited the Paul VI audience hall to see the remote press center. We talked with a reporter and cameraman from Voice of America and Josh McElwee of National Catholic Reporter, who had just interview the editor of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily newspaper. He was carrying the commemorative resignation issue of the newspaper. Paul Haring, CNS photographer, was scoping out the scene to be sure he’ll have enough power to file even when all other journalists will also be working furiously.

Media interest of Spanish outlets is on the rise. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, is generous with his time in accommodating them. Mar Munoz Visoso, the head of the U.S. bishops’ cultural diversity office, and an adjunct to our media staff for this event, is coordinating much of that.

WUSA Channel 9, in Washington, called for advice on stories to cover when they get here. It will be nice to see their talented Bruce Johnson, making us feel like we’re back home. They’re still waiting to hear the date of the conclave’s opening before buying their plane tickets. No one has secret info on that, however. Once it’s decided another flurry of media activity will begin. If they don’t get here quickly the voting cardinals will be in the Conclave incommunicado and they’ll be scrambling for stories of seminarians, visiting Catholics, and whatever else they can devise. Maybe a story on smokestacks?

Over dinner, a veteran reporter in Rome said what he’s been hearing from cardinals he’s interviewed is that the church needs a man with deep faith, sound doctrine, charisma and managerial skills.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh is media relations director for the USCCB.

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