Vatican hires Fox News reporter as communications adviser

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The Toronto Star

25 June 2012

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Nicole Winfield and

Victor L. Simpson The Associated Press

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

VATICAN CITY—The Vatican has brought in the Fox News correspondent in Rome to help improve its communications strategy as it tries to cope with years of communications blunders and one of its most serious scandals in decades, officials said Saturday.

Greg Burke, 52, will leave Fox to become the senior communications adviser in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the Vatican and Burke told The Associated Press.

“I’m a bit nervous but very excited. Let’s just say it’s a challenge,” Burke said in a phone interview.

He defined his job, which he said he had been offered twice before, as being along the lines of the White House senior communications adviser: “You’re shaping the message, you’re moulding the message, and you’re trying to make sure everyone remains on-message. And that’s tough.”

Burke, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, is a member of the conservative Opus Dei movement. Pope John Paul II’s longtime spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, was also a member of Opus Dei and was known for the papal access he enjoyed and his ability to craft the messages John Paul wanted to get out.

After Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, Navarro-Valls was replaced by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit who had long headed Vatican Radio and still does, along with running the Vatican press office and Vatican television service.

Lombardi told the AP that Burke will help integrate communications issues within the Vatican’s top administrative office, the secretariat of state, and will help handle its relations with the Holy See press office and other Vatican communications offices. Burke will report to the Vatican undersecretary of state and the official who oversees Vatican communications in the secretariat.

Lombardi confirmed the news after the AP broke the story, several days before the Holy See had planned to announce it officially.

The Vatican has been bedevilled by communications blunders ever since Benedict’s 2005 election, and is currently dealing with a scandal over Vatican documents that were leaked to Italian journalists. While the scandal is serious — Benedict himself convened a special meeting of cardinals Saturday to try to cope with it — the Vatican’s communications problems long predate it.

Benedict’s now-infamous speech about Muslims and violence, his 2009 decision to rehabilitate a schismatic bishop who denied the Holocaust, and the Vatican’s response to the 2010 explosion of the sex abuse scandal are just a few of the blunders that have tarnished Benedict’s papacy.

Even the Vatican’s response to the leaks from within the Vatican of sensitive papal documents hasn’t involved a terribly sophisticated public relations strategy. Just last week the Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, blamed the media and the devil for fuelling the scandal and accused journalists of “pretending to be Dan Brown.”

Brown wrote “The Da Vinci Code,” the bestselling fictional account that portrayed Opus Dei — of which Bertone’s new communications adviser is a member — as being at the root of an international Catholic conspiracy.

Burke acknowledged the difficult task ahead but said that after turning down the Vatican twice before, he went with his gut and accepted the third time around. “This is an opportunity and challenge that I’m not going to get again,” he said.

He said he didn’t know what, if any, role his membership in Opus Dei played. Opus is greatly in favour in the Vatican these days, particularly as other new religious movements such as the Legion of Christ have lost credibility with their own problems. Currently, for example, the cardinal who is heading the Vatican’s internal investigation into the leaks of documents is the Opus Dei prelate, Cardinal Julian Herranz.

“I’m an old-fashioned Midwestern Catholic whose mother went to Mass every day,” Burke said. “Am I being hired because I’m in Opus Dei?” he asked. “It might come into play.” But he noted he was also in Opus when he was hired by Fox and Time magazine.

Burke has been a Fox correspondent since he joined the U.S. network in 2001. He was the Time magazine correspondent in Rome for a decade before that.

At Fox, he led the network’s coverage of the death of John Paul and election of Benedict in 2005, and has covered the papacy since then, travelling with the pope around the globe. But he has also used Rome as a base for non-Vatican reporting, including several stints in the Middle East during the last intifada, labour law protests in France and the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid.

He is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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Vatican hires Fox News correspondent

Greenslade Blog

The Guardian

25 June 2012

Would you believe it? The Vatican has hired a Fox News journalist to be its senior communications adviser.

Greg Burke, the News Corp channel’s Rome correspondent, has covered the Vatican for Fox since 2001. He is a member of the conservative Opus Dei movement.

He becomes the Vatican’s first communications expert hired from outside the insular world of the Roman Catholic news media. He is not replacing the current spokesman, Federico Lombardi, but will advise officials on how to shape their message.

Some Vatican observers regard the move as a power play by media-savvy Americans — including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — inside a Vatican hierarchy that is run by Italians.

The Vatican is dealing with a growing investigation that has led to the arrest of the Pope Benedict’s butler in connection with the leaking of private documents.

The Vatican’s secretive bank remains embroiled in controversy over whether it can meet international transparency standards. Then there is the ongoing crisis in various countries over sexual abuse by priests.

Burke is a numerary in Opus Dei, which means, he said, that he is celibate and gives most of his income to the movement.

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Vatican scandal: Media coverage part of the devil’s work, says official

The Toronto Star

Published On Mon Jun 18 2012

Nicole Winfield The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY—The Vatican’s No. 2 official on Monday blamed the media — and the devil — for fueling the scandal over leaked Vatican documents.

Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told an Italian Catholic weekly that journalists reporting on the leaks scandal are “pretending to be Dan Brown … inventing stories and replaying legends.” The reference to Brown is particularly acute; Brown wrote “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” the bestselling fictional accounts of power struggles and scandals inside the Catholic Church.

The Vatican has been on the defensive ever since sensitive documents alleging corruption and exposing power struggles began appearing in the Italian media in January. A recent book containing dozens of documents from Pope Beneddict XVI’s own desk has compounded what many see as a plot to undermine Bertone’s authority.

Several top Vatican officials have castigated the media for fueling the scandal, and to be sure Italian newspapers in particular have been on a feeding frenzy reporting details of the Vatican’s investigation into the leaks that the Vatican spokesman routinely shoots down.

Pope Benedict XVI himself has complained about media reports that “went well beyond the facts, offering an image of the Holy See that doesn’t correspond to reality.”

But Bertone’s interview with Famiglia Cristiana took the complaints to a new level, blasting the “vehemence” of some Italian newspapers in seeking to create divisions between the pope and his collaborators where there weren’t any.

“The truth is that there’s a will to create division that comes from the devil,” he said. The interview is due on newsstands Thursday but was made available to journalists Monday.

Bertone admitted the Holy See isn’t perfect and that “none of us wants to hide the church’s shadows and defects.” But he said the Italian media in particular had gone too far, violating the privacy rights of both the pope and the people who correspond with him by publishing leaked documents.

Contrary to media reports depicting factions opposed to him within the Vatican bureaucracy, Bertone said he enjoys “an extraordinary climate of communion” with his colleagues. “Personally, I don’t sense any sign of cardinals or church personalities being involved in any conquest of some phantom power,” he said.

So far only one person has been arrested in the case: the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three who was arrested May 23 and accused of aggravated theft after reams of papal documents were found in his Vatican City apartment.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Monday that a commission of cardinals investigating the leaks scandal had so far interrogated 23 people, including Gabriele as well as other lay and clergy, Vatican superiors and employees. The commission members reported back to the pope on Saturday about their investigation and are continuing their work.

Gabriele continues to be held inside the Vatican police barracks accused of aggravated theft, though he was allowed out on Sunday as usual to attend Mass with his family.

The attempt by the Vatican to blame the media for the leaks is to some degrees a repeat of 2010, when several Vatican officials blamed journalists for fueling the sex abuse scandal that had re-ignited that year. Thousands of people came forward, mostly in Europe, with reports that priests had raped and molested them when they were children.

Eventually, Benedict himself put the blame-game to rest when he admitted that the abuse was “born from the sins within the church,” not from the media.

The leaks scandal broke in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi revealed letters from a former top Vatican administrator who begged the pope not to transfer him for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros (dollars) in higher contract prices. The prelate was transferred and is now the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador.

The scandal widened over the following months with documents leaked to Italian journalists that laid bare power struggles and differences of opinion inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency and comply with international norms to fight money laundering.

The scandal reached a peak last month when Nuzzi published an entire book based on a trove of new documentation, including personal correspondence to and from the pope and his private secretary, much of which painted Bertone in a negative light.

Lombardi was asked Monday about the campaign to blame journalists for reporting on documents that someone inside the Vatican chose to leak. Lombardi said that he didn’t want to make any “general condemnation” but that in such tense times, objectivity and fact-checking seem to have fallen by the wayside.

While ruling out power struggles per se, he did admit there have been “strong tensions” of late, particularly concerning the harsh ouster of the president of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. He was fired after the bank’s board accused him of failing to do his job and leaking documents. Subsequently a letter from a psychotherapist working for the bank was leaked in which the doctor expressed concerns about Gotti Tedeschi’s mental health.

3 Responses to Vatican hires Fox News reporter as communications adviser

  1. Sylvia says:

    First, I am no fan of Opus Dei.  That said, this is damage control.  Things must be in sheer turmoil over there.

  2. JG says:

    The plan behind the appointment:

    *“You’re shaping the message, you’re moulding the message, and you’re trying to make sure everyone remains on-message….

    In other words, more ”manipulation” of the message and not necessarily speaking of the ”truth”…and coming clean.

    Some sort of magician of the word…more twists of the ”perception”…  Religious ridicule!…seasoned with another ”develish” intervention in the media!

    I don’t know if we should laugh or cry!

    jg

  3. Mike says:

         Sounds to me like the beginning of a federal election campaign right here in Canada! Let’s go out and hire the brightest and smoothests “spin doctor” the world has to offer.
         As some reporter once asked Stephen Harper years ago, wouldn’t it be easier to just be accountable, and tell the truth?    Mike.

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