July 19, 2019

Vatican communication, what now?

By Andrea Gagliarducci
Matteo Bruni, new director of the Holy See Press Office, greets Pope Francis - credit Vatican Media / aCI Group
Matteo Bruni, new director of the Holy See Press Office, greets Pope Francis - credit Vatican Media / aCI Group

The first declarations that followed the new appointments in Vatican media departments showed a series of clues that might disclose how the Vatican communication will develop. Like everything in the Vatican, hints need to be interpreted and understood. 

Right after the new appointments, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for the Communication, stressed in a release that “the direction of the Holy See Press Office, to be completed with the deputy director, is now in its almost final composition.” 

The fact that a deputy director was not appointed is food for thoughts. It seemed that everything was settled. The new appointments were supposed to be out on July 15, and deputy director was supposed to be Cristiane Murray, from the Portuguese section of Vatican News. This appointment never took place. 

There are rumors, within the Holy See, that the Secretariat of State gave its “non-placet” to the appointment of Murray after further scrutiny on her life and career. Since the appointment did not take place, the Dicastery for Communication is still hunting the new deputy director. 

Murray met two critical requirements for the post: she is a woman, and Pope Francis made it clear that he wants a woman in that position; and her mother tongue is Portuguese, a crucial language given the next Special Synod for the Panamazonian Region. 

Before looking for someone that met those criteria, two Italian journalists were offered the job and refused it, for different reasons. According to rumors, one of the possible candidates is Aura Miguel, a correspondent for the Portuguese Radio Renascença. However, it is baffling that the Vatican will hire someone from the outside. A circular letter by the Vatican Council for the Economy has been delivered in the Vatican offices. The latter laments for the increase of the expenses and asks for the further spending review.

Not by chance, Paolo Ruffini underscored, in his July 18 release, that the new appointments “value the internal resources.

After seven months as interim director, Alessandro Gisotti is now appointed deputy director of the editorial section, along with Sergio Centofanti, who has been serving as the chief office in Vatican News for years. The two appointments strengthen the editorial direction, led by Andrea Tornielli. 

Speaking with journalists right after the announcements, Gisotti said that “the fact that Tornielli is good and that gives the line with his op-eds and interviews cannot be considered a disadvantage.” 

The editorial direction is confirmed to be one of the most critical offices in the Dicastery for Communication, as it is called to coordinate all the Vatican communication.

Tornielli’s op-eds are already translated into the Vatican News several languages and are published in L’Osservatore Romano: Sometimes, they are also delivered in the Holy See Press Office bulletins. 

Step by step, the role of Tornielli and the office he leads are taking shape. The editorial direction was previewed by the statutes of the Dicastery of Communication. However, mons. Dario Edoardo Viganò took over the interim of the editorial direction while he was the prefect of the Dicastery. 

All the clues say that the editorial direction will foster the communication strategies, also giving instructions to the Holy See Press Office. This is the reason why the office has been strengthened. 

The Holy See Press Office will stay as a direction, as the statutes say. Speaking with journalists, Gisotti said it is evident that a Papal trip will be announced by a declaration of the Holy See Press Office director, as it will be an official response to questions by journalists. 

In an interview granted to Vatican News, Matteo Bruni, the new Holy See Press Office director, underscored the great work he did with journalists during the last years. He has been a sort of liaison between the Press Office and the journalists, especially for the organization of the Papal trip. It will not be possible to assimilate his job to that of a spokesperson, as it happened for Joaquin Navarro Valls, Fr. Federico Lombardi and Greg Burke. 

Bruni is the first non-journalist of the modern era at the helm of the Holy See Press Office. He is called to coordinate and manage a Press Office that has a regulation finally. During his months of interim, Gisotti took charge to write a statute. Gisotti also promoted the new organizational chart: Romilda Ferrauto as senior advisor, Raul Cabrera Perez, and Sr. Bernadet Reis as assistants of the director, Thaddeus Jones as office manager. 

The international team is intended to cover the most critical linguistic area and to fill some structural lacks. It is noteworthy that the group was composed of internal resources: all of the staff come from the Vatican Radio ranks. They know the machine and the Vatican mentality, but they also know how to relate with journalists.

In the end, all the staff of the Dicastery for Communication was raised and nurtured within the Holy See, but the top officials: nor Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery, nor Andrea Tornielli, editorial director, ever worked in the Vatican before, and neither did Andrea Monda, director of L’Osservatore Romano, who must be considered part of the team of Communication. 

This new structure completes the path of the reform. This path began with the committee chaired by Lord Christopher Patten, went on with another commission and step by step made concrete with the establishment and shaping of the Dicastery. 

The rationale of the reform was not just that of unifying all the media departments, but rather to create a real ministry that took care both of pastoral and news. 

Next step of this reform will be the transfer of the L’Osservatore Romano offices outside of the Vatican Walls, in the same building where Vatican Radio / Vatican News office is. The transfer was planned long before. It is intended to have all the media office working together in the production of contents. 

The transfer is also symbolic. It tells of a detachment of the Holy See communication from the Vatican City State. The detachment began with Paul VI decision to establish the Holy See Press Office outside of the Vatican Walls, moving it out of the rooms of L’Osservatore Romano.

Another clue of this detachment is the increasing marginalization of the Secretariat of State. The Holy See Press Office had always been under the Secretariat of State umbrella. 

Vatican communication is, thus, institutional communication with an international perspective and firmly centered on the words and the image of the Pope. This communication is less self-referential when it communicates the Holy See activities. However, it risks being self-referential when it tells about Pope Francis and his gestures. 

Indeed, the era of the Vatican spokesperson with direct access to the Pope or his entourage is over. The Holy See Press Office ceases to be the central reference point of Vatican communication. Perhaps, not even the editorial direction is the primary reference point. Probably, the only main reference point is now just the Pope. 

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.