With Pope Dying, Vatican Press Office Adapts to Communication Age

By: (AP) The Vatican press office is notoriously strict about its closing times, turning off the lights and kicking reporters out at 3 p.m. sharp, even if they're typing urgent news. So it was a remarkable development when papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced Friday that the office would stay open overnight.

With the world's attention focused on Pope John Paul II in an age of instant global communications, procedure at the Vatican swiftly changed.

About two dozen satellite trucks flanked Via della Concilazione, the main boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square, as media outlets from around the world came to report on John Paul's failing health.

Lisa Owen of Television New Zealand flew in from London and picked up her Vatican press credentials -- a sometimes lengthy process that was being expedited to accommodate the throngs of media converging on Rome.

"Now accommodation is the problem," Owen said, adding she had a room for Friday night but nothing for subsequent days.

The apparent willingness of the Vatican to cater to the media was in sharp contrast to past practice.

Vatican watchers recall that when the pope summoned U.S. cardinals to Rome in April 2002 because of the sex-abuse crisis, the press office closed immediately after a late-night news conference by the U.S. prelates. That left journalists scrambling to dictate the news to their home offices as they were ushered outside.

When John Paul was shot in 1981, the Vatican press office stayed open into the night. But "Vaticanisti" -- the reporters who are permanently accredited to the Vatican -- said Friday was the first time in memory that the press office had announced it would be open around the clock.

The office itself was in chaos Friday, with a line of reporters seeking last-minute credentials snaking out the door, and the press room overflowing.

When a medical update was issued Friday evening, several hundred journalists crowded around the main desk where it was released.


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