Julia's Rome Blog: God’s spin doctor

2010-09-09 00:00

Today we got to meet God’s spin doctor.

Forgive the facetiousness, but to many Catholics their church is the one true church, so that must make the director of the Press Office of the Holy See the divine spin doctor?

Right: Press office director Frederico Lombardi.

Father Federico Lombardi had a baptism of fire back when the Pope went to Germany and made some less-than-helpful comments about Islam just after the anniversary of 9/11. He clearly got to learn about damage control early on in his assignment.

An Italian, he comes from a background on Vatican Radio so has some experience of the workings of the media, or at least as much as a Vatican insider can have. His office still seems to make mistakes, as some of the journos from North America were quick to point out.

They said that the Press Office recently put out a press statement that addressed the paedophilia scandal and the ordination of women at the same time. The media allegedly reported it as “The Vatican equates paedophilia with the ordination of women.” So much for the media savviness of the Holy See.

Lombardi was affable and approachable, giving an informative talk and answering numerous questions with candour and humour.  There are 400 journalists accredited to cover events at the Holy See, and every time the pope makes a visit somewhere, he takes a plane load of 60 to 70- reporters with him. Lombardi’s office handles the logistics involved in all that, including collecting questions for the Holy Father, some of which he answers on the plane for the gathered journalists.

The way the Vatican handles media questions reminded me of government bodies back home – journos have to submit questions in writing beforehand. They probably get answers more quickly than we do, though.

The Holy See and the Vatican seem to be the same thing, but I’m not entirely sure because the speaker from the Secretariat of State of the Holy See who lectured us on it had a fairly impenetrable Spanish accent. However, I gather that the Vatican City State relates to the state of Italy, while the Holy See relates to the rest of world. Some 178 countries send ambassadors to the See, which in return sends 150 papal nuncios to be its representatives around the world.

 Another interesting speaker was from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithful, the body that the current pope, Benedict XVI, headed for some 25 years before he became pope. It is the descendant of the Inquisition that deals with matters related to doctrine, theology, mysterious phenomena like visions and “crimes against Canon Law” or the law of the church like the current sexual abuse scandal.

An urbane priest from the USA, Monsignor Charles Brown worked with Benedict for 10 years before he became pope.  

Above: Monsignor Charles Brown (right).

According to him, the pope is “A humble, very private person who is very smart and remembers anything he reads. He likes to study, read and pray.” A man of great faithfulness who has given his life to the church,” Brown said, who was looking forward to retiring to write when he was made pope.   

Julia on Twitter.

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