Vatican spokesman reveals JP2 death media strategy

An expanded media accreditation office, round-the-clock press office services, a second press centre and video feeds were among the media plans made in 2000 in the event of John Paul II's death, a Vatican spokesman has revealed.

According to Catholic News Service, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls revealed that when John Paul II fell gravely ill last year, the Vatican's media machine had to walk a fine line between openness and alarmism.

The spokesman said that any public move to expand media services would have been taken as a signal of impending papal death. But it did not make sense to try to cover up the seriousness of the Pope's crisis when he had lived his entire ministry in the public eye, he said.

Navarro-Valls spoke about the "untold story" behind the papal transition at a seminar for church media professionals sponsored by the Opus Dei-run University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

The papal spokesman said that as early as the year 2000 the Vatican had made plans to deal with the thousands of journalists expected to converge on Rome for a papal death and conclave.

"The question was: When to activate all this? As soon as we would have announced that the press office was staying open 24 hours a day, Rome would have filled up with every journalist in the world. We didn't want to uselessly create an alarm," Navarro-Valls said.

In the end, the press office enacted the emergency plan two days before the pope died, immediately after he went into septic shock and doctors said death was imminent.

Navarro-Valls said his briefings during that period were basically medical information conveyed by the pope's doctors.

In the intervening 48 hours before the pope died, he said, the media in a sense provoked the massive gathering of the faithful in St Peter's Square. It was a fitting example of the dying pope's special relationship of complicity with the mass media, he said.

In the end, more than four million people and several thousand journalists descended on Rome in what became a global event. That was unexpected, despite years of planning, Navarro-Valls said.

"We tried to imagine, but we never imagined anything like this," he said.

Vatican spokesman recounts coverage of Pope John Paul's final days (Catholic News Service 1/5/06)

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2 May 2006