There are thousands of journalists in Denver covering the visit of Pope John Paul II, but only a group of 8-year-old reporters got an exclusive interview with the pontiff. He must know something about U.S. journalism.
The news media have been using the pope's visit as an opportunity to take the pulse of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The stories have centered on the controversies that surround a conservative pope ministering to a more liberal flock. That coverage, World Youth Day officials say, is way out of line.
"It's driving me nuts," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, chief spokeswoman for World Youth Day. "I don't think it is fair to use an event that has been planned and developed for and by young people to grab media attention."
The purpose of the pope's trip is to strengthen the faith of world youth. At last count, 3,500 credentials have been issued for journalists, but there will be no access to the key news maker.
For the dissenting groups, the attention is welcome.
"This is really a godsend for all of us," said Dugan McGinley, Denver coordinator for the coalition. "The bulk of the media will focus on the pope, but we really appreciate the equal footing we are getting."
That's why the pope's attention might have been attracted by the questions faxed to the Vatican by the young reporters for the Denver Post's children's page. One of the questions for the pontiff was whether he had ever struck anyone while swinging his incense burner. "So far I have never hit anyone in the head with the censer," he wrote.
This exclusive went on the front page.
One of the consequences of focusing on church controversies is that much coverage of the papal visit will revolve around sex and gender: abortion, use of birth control, the ordination of nuns, homosexuality and sexual-abuse cases involving priests.
"That's the kind of story that from time to time we might do, and it makes sense to do it while the pope is here," said David Glodt, executive producer of ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," which will broadcast live Sunday from Denver.