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Exclusive: Time, ABC reporters called out by nun on Vatican visit

RAW STORY
Published: February 9, 2006

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An irreverent pool report written by TIME Magazine reporter Mike Allen and distributed to the White House press corps reveals that an ABC reporter and Allen were browbeaten by a reproving nun and threatened with being expelled by a Swiss Guard, RAW STORY can reveal. The press were covering First Lady Laura Bush's visit to the papal palace.

The pool report -- a narrative written by a reporter who is part of the press corps when only a select number of reporters can attend an event -- is distributed to other reporters for use in writing their own stories. The relevant paragraph follows, and following that continues the Vatican report in full.

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The press pool was in the charge of a nun, attired in blue, who could not conceive of ABC’s Ann Compton taking a laptop into the palace. The reporters had been told to bring their stuff with them because they would be running to catch the motorcade as Mrs. Bush departed. “Leave it to a colleague outside,” the nun said insistently. “You don’t need a computer.” “Finally, the nun did away with diplomacy and said, “There is no way.” An Associated Press reporter from Rome (whose uncanny hearing and generosity are responsible for some of the quotes above) asked about a tape recorder. “Absolutely no recorder in the library of the pope,” the nun replied, then clicked her tongue reprovingly, as if in a movie. Even the back halls of the Vatican have marble floors and art on the wall. The nun hurried reporters along one of the narrow corridors saying, “That’s the way.” At one point, scolding your pooler for an unintentional and mysterious infraction, she said, “You understand English? Do you prefer me to use Latin? Spanish? Italian? No more ‘Yes, ma’am’! I will call a Swiss Guard and have you removed” She carried a black, portfolio-like bag. Apparently deciding the sin was not venial, she granted absolution by reaching in her bag and handing over a color map and a fact sheet, with a businesslike smile.

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Pool Report #1
The Trip of the First Lady to the Vatican
Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006

The First Lady, accompanied by her daughter Miss Barbara Bush, met His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI at 11 o’clock this morning Rome time in the ultimate inner sanctum – the ornate, sun-splashed Papal Library in the Apostolic Palace, just off St. Peter’s Square. The Pope wore a cream-colored cap and cassock, a gold cross, and bright red, leather shoes. He was a warm host in an overwhelming setting. He is spry and not tall. The half-hour audience, all in the Library, was so quick it was a blur for both participants and onlookers. It began with a greeting for the cameras among the Pope, Mrs. Bush, Miss Bush and Francis Rooney, the seventh U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Mrs. Bush wore a black dress with a dozen buttons and the black head covering known as a mantilla. Miss Bush was also dressed in black, including her boots, and did not wear a head cover. The Pope, in a characteristic gesture, held both hands out and said, in English, “Welcome.” Then the three visitors took white chairs in front of the Pope’s desk for brief private audience. The desk bore formal-looking papers, an ornate box like an overgrown pen set, and an eyeglass case. “We hope you have a pleasant time,” the Pope said. “We’re looking forward to the Games,” Mrs. Bush said. “Rome doesn’t seem that crowded.” As the press was ushered out, Mrs. Bush was remarking on the unseasonably warm weather.

Cameras were brought back in for an exchange of gifts, followed by quick handshakes and blessings for five members of the White House staff and a Secret Service agent. Some of these aides, frequent visitors to the Oval Office, were struck literally speechless with respect, so communication was mostly by body language. All were concerned about the protocol of this once-in-a-lifetime moment. One of them said it was so surreal she was unsure if she was supposed to clasp his hand the way she usually does because she didn’t know if she should touch his ring. Responding to the Pope’s greeting for the President, Mrs. Bush said: “I’ll give him your good wishes. He sends his best wishes.” Mrs. Bush presented the Pope with a silver bowl. “Thank you for having us – we have a small -- ,” the First Lady began. Papal chum dispensed from silver platters. The press pool was given rosaries in vinyl cases. An aide-de-camp presented the Pope with a platter and he gave Mrs. Bush and Miss Bush rosaries in white boxes, and presented the Ambassador with a red box that contained a medal or rosary. “Thank you so much – so lovely,” Mrs. Bush said.

Mrs. Bush arrived at the maize-walled Courtyard of San Damaso, or Cortile San Damaso, where she stepped onto an Oriental rug, and thence onto stairs with a red runner. Visitors stand in the courtyard and marvel at the three upper stories, all with floor-to-ceiling white curtains and breathtaking are on the other side. The fourth floor (or “logga”) is the papal apartments; the Pope holds audiences on the third floor. Mrs. Bush was greeted by a “picket” of Swiss Guards, the Pope’s Secret Service, attired in their outfits of vertical mustard and purple stripes with red trim, and a red plume on the helmet. Another Vatican tradition is the “Papal gentlemen,” attired in tuxes, tails and medals, who shepherd visitors about the papal household.

Mrs. Bush was escorted to her papal audience by Archbishop James Harvey, the Prefect of the Pontifical Household. As the First Lady passed the cameras, she could be heard saying, “She was a skater,” an apparent reference to Dorothy Hamill, who won the gold in Austria in 1976.

Press arrangements for such a visit are the product of delicate and exhausting negotiations by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the White House Advance staff. The Vatican, with a couple thousand years of history on its side, does not respond to urgency or pushiness. Speed, “necessity,” tension – all are anathema. It’s one of the few places the President or First Lady goes that the White House doesn’t basically get what it wants. Vatican officials don’t like e-mail – everything has to be faxed or hand-delivered, with many of the details spelled out in diplomatic notes, known locally as “dip notes.” The Vatican still moves at its ancient rhythm. But Pope John Paul II was well known for his attention to the news media, and a Vatican satellite truck was parked out back as Mrs. Bush’s motorcade arrived.

The press pool was in the charge of a nun, attired in blue, who could not conceive of ABC’s Ann Compton taking a laptop into the palace. The reporters had been told to bring their stuff with them because they would be running to catch the motorcade as Mrs. Bush departed. “Leave it to a colleague outside,” the nun said insistently. “You don’t need a computer.” “Finally, the nun did away with diplomacy and said, “There is no way.” An Associated Press reporter from Rome (whose uncanny hearing and generosity are responsible for some of the quotes above) asked about a tape recorder. “Absolutely no recorder in the library of the pope,” the nun replied, then clicked her tongue reprovingly, as if in a movie. Even the back halls of the Vatican have marble floors and art on the wall. The nun hurried reporters along one of the narrow corridors saying, “That’s the way.” At one point, scolding your pooler for an unintentional and mysterious infraction, she said, “You understand English? Do you prefer me to use Latin? Spanish? Italian? No more ‘Yes, ma’am’! I will call a Swiss Guard and have you removed” She carried a black, portfolio-like bag. Apparently deciding the sin was not venial, she granted absolution by reaching in her bag and handing over a color map and a fact sheet, with a businesslike smile.

The release, headed “Official Visits,” included: “Private library: on the wall behind the Holy Father there is a painting representing the Vergin [sic] Mary on a Throne by Antoniazzo Romano; on the opposite wall the Resurrection by Perugino; on the central wall a Crucifix by Giotto.” The Cortile San Damaso is described as “originated by Bramante (1503-1513), continued by Raphael, completed by Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane (1523-1534).” The press waited, and Mrs. Bush passed through with the Prefect, The Sala di Sant’Ambrogio: “a polychrome status of Saint Ambrose by an anonymous artist of the 15th century; polyptychs by Nicola da Volturno and Matteo di Tonnazzo.”

The First Lady, accompanied by the Italian police force Carabinieri, took a wild motorcade ride past St. Peter’s Square to the Hotel Eden, where she spoke to reporters about her papal audience for seven minutes in the marbled-floored lobby. “I had a chance to visit with him, to talk to him about I’d seen in Nigeria, for instance, when I visited St. Mary’s Hospital – all the good work that different Catholic charities and charitable orders are doing around the world.” Mrs. Bush then took a few questions, and of course the first one was about rioting over cartoon depictions of Mohammed. “I know that Muslims are offended with these cartoons, and I understand their offense,” she began. “On the other hand, I don’t think violence is the answer. I think that everyone around the world needs to speak out and say, ‘Let’s stop the violence.’ It’s really not necessary to get the point across that they were offended by those cartoons.” She said she and the Pope had discussed the matter “just briefly.” Then she added, “But we talked about religion, and we talked about the separation of church and state and religion. I talked about how many, many people in the United States are religious. But, of course, we’re diverse, a lot of different religions, and that we respect the freedom of religion or the freedom not to worship if people choose not to.”

Mrs. Bush headed up to a rooftop suite to give two television interviews focused on Catholic issues. The press went on to the U.S. Embassy in Rome, where we hoofed down stone steps so broad they are known as “elephant steps,” legendarily used by those beasts in antiquity. Mrs. Bush arrived from the hotel. In the Red Room of the U.S. Embassy Rome Chancery Building, she greeted embassy employees and families of the “tri-mission” embassies of Italy, Holy See (Vatican City) and San Marino. Then she went in her black Cadillac limousine – with District of Columbia plates, but not the hood flags that adorn the President’s limousine -- to the Villa Madama, the residence of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for a leisurely lunch. Her motorcade pulled into the gravel horseshoe driveway out front. The press Mrs. Bush had changed into a pink suit by the time she walked into a giant chamber, with an beautifully painted ceiling and the flags of the U.S., Italy and the European Union set out. Miss Bush walked into the house with her and then briefly peeled off. The First Lady and the Prime Minister took some photos, and he jovially accepted photographers’ pleas to move closer to the flags. He noticeably sucked in his midriff as they began snapping away. His skin was a Boehnerian bronze. “Barbara?” the Prime Minister called and the Presidential daughter came in and took a few photos, with a modest but practiced smile. “OK,” the Prime Minister said. “Thank you, everyone,” Mrs. Bush said, and it was over. Then they went into lunch and the press milled about before being take to a room with casserole, Coke and a few electrical outlets. Peter Watkins of Mrs. Bush’s staff has done so many Vatican trips for the White House that the embassy-hired driver of the “Control” bus was introducing him around as “my grandson.”

The First Lady missed the second-most-exciting part of the day, which came as the press was leaving the embassy and heading toward the Prime Minister’s residence. As the press loaded up at the embassy, the driver of Press 2 was nowhere to be found, so the whole pool piled into a Press 1, a Mercedes bus. It turned out that drive was also snoozing. The motorcade took off and he just sat there. Entreated to step on it by the staff and passengers, he then had trouble navigating the narrow car-bomb barriers at the embassy gate. The motorcade was nowhere to be found and the whole tail of it, including the ambulance, was behind us. The driver pressed on, laying on his warbling horn, making a few seconds of progress in the motorcade wake. That, of course, didn’t last long and we halted behind heavy Rome traffic. A police car behind him was blowing its siren and the Secret Service press agent, the patient Special Agent John R. Christman of the Presidential Protective Division, wisely advised the driver: “Let the police take the lead.” The unmarked white Taurus, siren wailing, jumped in front and led the left-behind on a wild ride through the narrow, ancient streets of Rome, with intersection control consisting of an officer in the front who was pointing and waving out his window. A second officer opened the backseat door on the driver’s side and gestured frantically at traffic and pedestrians to get out of the way. Everyone was afraid he would fall out at one of the many sharp turns. Peter Watkins of Mrs. Bush’s staff pointed out: “This is like the movie ‘The Italian Job,’ only in a bus!” Just then, the police led us across a train track where a streetcar had just passed and another one was bearing down. Then a little powder blue Fiat labeled “Polizia” jumped in front of the bus to help the Taurus fend off traffic and pedestrians. An officer on the passenger side opened the window and started waving a little traffic control device that looked like a red and white spatula. “Get out of the way or I’ll spank you!” someone in the pool joked. Then a second Fiat overtook the motorcade tail. The genius in the Taurus had taken us on a shortcut and actually beat Mrs. Bush to the Villa Madama. And the Olympics don’t open till tomorrow.

After a four-course lunch, he First Lady went to a breast-cancer awareness event at Komen Italia, at the Gemelli Hospital, a Catholic teaching hospital in northern Rome. The banner behind her said, “The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure.” The moderator thanked Nancy Brinker, a friend of the Bushes who started the foundation in honor of her sister. Mrs. Bush heard from some breast-cancer survivors, and the audience listened along on interpretation headsets. Mrs. Bush suggested that women make mammograms easier and more natural by having sisters go together as an outing. She presented an award to a volunteer who had pushed for a breast cancer stamp and spoke about the foundation, saying that before such event as the Race for the Cure, “American women didn’t really talk about breast cancer. It was embarrassing. It was something you never admitted if you had breast cancer. You didn’t reach out to other women or to other survivors to get support.”

She then introduced the Olympians in the delegation, including Dorothy Hamill, who she called “a favorite of all Americans,” and Kerri Strug, the gold-medal gymnast. “There is something that is very exciting and hopeful about Olympics,” Mrs. Bush said. “It gives us a chance to be together – a lot of countries together – to make new friends and renew old friendships.” Other delegation members include Debi Thomas, the bronze-medal figure skater, and now an orthopedic surgeon; Eric Heiden, the gold-medal speed skater who is also now an orthopedist. “I think it’s interesting that these athletes are now all working on people’s bones and joints,” Mrs. Bush joked.

Mrs. Bush was to attend a private dinner, and also a reception for the Olympic delegation at the Villa Taverna, the Ambassador’s Residence in Rome.

Mrs. Bush, who is to head the U.S. delegation the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics in Turin (“Torino,” on NBC) on Friday. Miss Bush is one of the 10 members of the delegation. Several other members flew with Mrs. Bush from Andrews Air Force Base to Rome on Wednesday, including Brad Freeman, founder of Freeman Spogli & Co.; and Roland Betts, founder and chairman of Chelsea Piers, along with his wife, Lois. Kerri Strug got one of the backward facing seats in the guest cabin. Dorothy Hamill bought two disposable cameras during a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland. The airport at Shannon – a long time way station for Presidents, secretaries of defense and secretaries of state -- has a massive duty-free store and a nearby bar sells newspaper, coffee and Guinness 24 hours a day.



 


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