“I’m really annoyed at these journalists”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends the World Food Security Summit in Rome June 3. (CNS/Reuters) VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has a collective thick skin, and tends to ignore journalistic sloppiness or sensationalism. But it was a bit too much, even for the cool-headed diplomats in the Apostolic Palace, to see headlines like “Pope Benedict avoids meeting with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.”

That was the spin some media put on the fact that Pope Benedict XVI was not holding a private audience with Ahmadinejad or other heads of state who are in Rome this week for a global food summit. A papal encounter with Ahmadinejad, high-level Vatican sources told me today, was never in the works. The reason was that too many of the world leaders attending the food summit were asking for a papal meeting, and in such cases the pope politely declines them all.

That’s not new — it’s been the Vatican’s policy for the last three years to avoid these kind of revolving-door VIP papal encounters during international conferences. But the story line in much of the mainstream media (unfortunately picked up by some Catholic outlets) was that the pope was so desperate to avoid hosting Ahmadinejad that he canceled meetings with everyone.

“I’m really annoyed at these journalists. Where do they come up with this?” one usually imperturbable Vatican source told me today. He emphasized that the Vatican’s general policy of “meeting with everyone” has not changed, and that the issues here were strictly practical.

The Vatican Press Office also issued a statement today, lamenting the “journalistic inferences that have been circulating” and reiterating that the pope was not meeting with the heads of state or heads of government simply because there were too many requests. It said the Vatican had written to each one, explaining the policy and offering the prospect of a papal meeting on a future occasion.

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