Vatican Hires American Spin Doctor

By Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
June 24, 2012

From Fox News to the Vatican

The Vatican has hired American journalist Greg Burke to batten down the hatches after the recent media storm

Right in the midst of the storm which brewed up around the paedophilia scandal in spring 2010, Fr. Federico Lombardi, who succeeded Joaquín Navarro-Valls' as head of the Holy See Press Office, gave an interview published on the BBC website, in which he stated he was a spokesman who depends on the Secretariat of State's instructions. "The Secretariat of State decides the line to take and I try to communicate it as best as I can," Lombardi had gone on to say, concluding: "No one has ever given me the task of co-ordinating of a Holy See media strategy."

One of the core reasons for the media crisis that has marked certain phases of the current papacy is the lack of a united communicative leadership as well as the lack of involvement on the part of the person in charge of communication during decision making processes. It would be simplistic to blame the crisis solely and exclusively on journalists, which is what is happening in the Vatican on all levels.

The Holy See's appointment of American journalist Greg Burke as "media advisor" shows that the Vatican Secretariat of State has finally taken the problem seriously after kicking itself in the stomach on a number of occasions over the past weeks. Burke is a distinguished professional who has worked as Rome correspondent for Time magazine and is currently employed by Fox News in the same role. One of the most notable media gaffs was the piloted disclosure of the reasons for the dismissal of the Vatican bank's former head, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi: regardless of whether he deserved to go, the media coverage of his dismissal was morally and professionally destroying for this man who was only appointed to the position three years ago and in whom a great deal of trust had been placed. An unprecedented event in the recent history of the Holy See, made worse by his exposure to an unpleasant psychiatric assessment, the results of which were sent to Gotti Tedeschi's superiors by a diligent professional who had been made to sit next to the Vatican bank's former president as a celebration and covertly examine him.

The communiqué published by the Vatican Press Office but prepared by the Secretariat of State after Gotti Tedeschi's home was searched in order to retrieve confidential documents which he was in illegal possession of, was not very forgiving either. It was supposed to recall the sacrosanct sovereign rights of the Vatican City State but ended up - unintentionally - making it seem like the Holy See wanted to keep the letters a secret.

Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's interview with Italian Pauline magazine Famiglia Cristiana, in which he understandably felt the need to offload did not have particularly positive consequences either: all the blame was dumped on Dan Brown wannabe journalists, particularly Italian journalists, defining what had been said by the poison pen letter writers and regarding the Vatican bank as "lies" and "slanders". Bertone's comments were presented as an over-simplistic message compared to the content of the documents published over the past months and the internal tensions that emerge from reading them.

But the Vatican Secretary of State has decided to make amends for all this by creating a new role: the media advisor, who is to be a sort of supervisor, a role similar to that of a White House communications advisor. 45 year old Burke is American and a member of the Opus Dei, as was Lombardi's predecessor, Joaquín Navarro-Valls. In its academic work, the institution founded by Josémaria Escrivá has always given great importance to communication which is evident from the well-attended courses at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and the annual international seminars for communication professionals working for the Church which are always very successful.

Commenting on the new advisor's appointment, Fr. Lombardi stated: "Greg Burke will soon be joining the Secretariat of State as media advisor. This new figure will focus on communication questions within the Secretariat of State and will be in charge of relations with the Holy See Press Office and other communication institutions in the Holy See."


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