US journalist set to clean Vatican image

2012-06-25 20:34
Pope Benedict XVI. (Andreas Solaro, AFP)

Pope Benedict XVI. (Andreas Solaro, AFP)

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Rome - A scandal-hit Vatican, struggling to combat years of bad press, has hired American Fox News correspondent Greg Burke to modernise a communications strategy tainted by serious blunders in the past.

Burke said he has been hired "primarily as a strategist" to "simplify the Vatican's message [and] improve communications", though Vatican watchers have said his appointment fails to tackle the real issues within the Holy See.

One of his main tasks, Burke says, will be "avoiding too many surprises".

Such embarrassing and damaging "surprises" have included Pope Benedict XVI's move in 2009 to welcome back into the fold a Holocaust-denying bishop, and the Vatican's controversial reaction to the child abuse scandal gripping the Church.

"Clearly there are various things that the pope himself has said that could have been better expressed. I covered the sex abuse scandal from the beginning, there's been a big communication problem, no doubt about it," Burke said.

Benedict has seemingly been let down time and again by advisers who appear to have failed to warn him about taking back the ill-favoured Bishop Richard Williamson or over an inflammatory speech he gave in Regensburg on Muslims.

Avoiding surprises

"The Williamson thing could have been handled better. The pope admitted the strategy in that case did not work, " Burke, a member of the conservative Catholic Opus Dei movement, said.

"I also plan to try and avoid too many surprises, like the Regensburg speech", which outraged the Muslim world.
Vatican expert Marco Politi said Burke's appointment could help the Holy See work on having a more transparent relationship with the public, but said it was side-stepping the real issues at its core.

"The so-called errors in communication are in truth problems with the method of governance," he said.

"Benedict was warned hours before he gave the speech in Regensburg that the Mohammad phrase would have sparked reactions, but he gave the speech all the same. The problem lies in governance, not rapport with the media," he added.

Burke's appointment comes as the Vatican battles with yet another scandal - this time an apparent whistleblowers' plot to unseat the powerful secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, allegedly considered too big for his boots.

The scandal has seen reams of secret papal documents hit the newspapers, sending the Holy See's communication system into overdrive as it rushes to find the leak's source and stave off rumours of a deep-seated internal malaise.

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Burke - appointed to the post by Bertone - said he does not think his assignment is linked to either the "Vatileaks" drama or another scandal surrounding the Vatican's bank, which has been freshly mired in allegations of corruption.

But Politi said that "Once more the Vatican is confusing problems of substance with problems of communication.
"The documents published have shed light on concrete conflicts over the management of the Curia by the secretary of state Bertone.

"Members of the public right now don't want to know if there is a communication strategy at the Vatican, but if the Vatican bank is using transparency measures or not."

Burke, a seasoned journalist, says he will help co-ordinate strategy by integrating communications issues within the Vatican's state secretariat and working with the tiny State's press office.

"It took me a while to find the courage to say yes. It's a challenge. I knew I was taking a big risk but I decided, in the end, to take it," he said.

Read more on:    pope benedictus xvi  |  vatican city  |  roman catholic church  |  media  |  religion
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