Kelly McParland: Pope Hopes Fox News Veteran Can Rescue the Vatican from Itself

By Kelly McParland
National Post
June 25, 2012

People gather on St. Peter's square during Pope Benedict XVI Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican on June 24.

Fox News journalist US Greg Burke, poses in Rome on June 25, 2012. Greg Burke, 52, will leave Fox to become a senior communications adviser in the Vatican's secretariat of state.

Embroiled in more scandals than it has commandments, the Catholic Church hierarchy has reacted like governments everywhere do when they're in trouble: hire a public relations adviser to "craft its message."

In this case the Church has turned to what must be one of the world's more questionable sources, if you're looking for straightforward, unbiased communications: Fox News.

Well, not Fox News exactly, but Greg Burke, a veteran Fox News correspondent in Rome, and a member of Opus Dei.

Gee, how promising — a member of the Church's most conservative wing, who works for the world's most right-wing news organization, will now be guiding the Pope in trying to reassure the flock that everything is under control inside the world's last independent walled city-state.

Fox, of course, is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has spent the past two years attempting to fend off his own scandal, which started when it came to light that his British newspapers regularly hacked into people's phones in search of juicy bits of news and gossip. The controversy has since grown into a threat against the News Corp empire itself, with British inquiries uncovering dubiously cozy links between Murdoch executives and a succession of police officials and British political leaders. Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both made clear that placating Mr. Murdoch and his news empire was a significant and ongoing concern. Current Prime Minister David Cameron has been embarrassed by revelations of his chumminess with Murdoch executives. One of his pals, Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the News of the World and The Sun, is facing three counts of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Murdoch's own son, James Murdoch, has been sacrificed, and a News Corp. lawyer said the elder Murdoch may face 500 lawsuits over the controversy.

The Vatican isn't hiring News Corp., just one of its correspondents. Still, you would think that after 2,000 years as one of the world's dominant religions, the Roman Catholic church would have had its "message" pretty clear by now. "Don't sin" would be a good start. "Stay away from the altar boys" would have saved a lot of trouble.

The underlying difficulty appears to be that, after almost 30 years of a charismatic Polish pope with an innate feel for politics, the Vatican is now headed by a German intellectual with none of John Paul's personal magnetism or verve. The Church was no more progressive under John Paul than it is under Benedict, but John Paul's personal charms and popularity helped gloss over the unattractive bits. Now the Vatican is so clumsy in its dealings that it finds itself unable even to get along with its own nuns, having accused the largest group of Catholic nuns in the U.S. of having "serious doctrinal problems" and promoting "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith." It has sent a U.S. bishop — a man of course — to sort things out, the message to the nuns being, "shut up and do what you're told."

This is not a promising situation, especially given that the biggest Church issue, decades of sexual abuse by priests who were then shuffled from parish to parish rather than being handed over to the police, is still grinding away. Just last week the Pope told Irish Catholics it's a "mystery" why so many priests abused so many youths.

It may be a mystery to the Pope, but it's not to most Irish. Attendance at Mass has plummeted in Ireland, where the Church's inept response to the abuse scandal has fractured the bonds of faith that held firm for centuries. Large majorities of Irish Catholics say they no longer believe basic Catholic teachings, and a recent international gathering in Dublin, intended to be a massive affair, played to half-empty houses while flag-waving crowds headed to European Football matches instead.

Mr. Burke, the new message guru, says he's nervous but excited about his job. "Let's just say it's a chal­lenge," he said. No, surviving centuries of persecution from Roman emperors was a challenge. This is pretty much a disaster.


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