Vatican media guru brings digital perspective to new post

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There are probably very few people who understand Church communications better than Msgr. Paul Tighe.

For the better part of a decade, he has been the top Irishman and go-to man in the Vatican when it comes to media – an experience he hopes to incorporate into his new position as adjunct-secretary to the Pontifical Council for Culture.

"A lot of my work in communications was looking at how digital culture is changing our world, and to see the strengths of that and the things that we might need to engage with," Msgr. Tighe told CNA Feb. 26.

He said there's "a strong continuity between the area of communications and culture," and said that at least for now, a lot of his new role at the Pontifical Council for Culture will likely be focused on digital culture.

"That's the culture I've been most familiar with," he said, adding that "increasingly various expressions of culture, be it in literature, be it in music, are expressing themselves in true digital platforms, which are transformed into many of the traditional cultural industries, if we want to call it that."

Born in Navan, County Meath in 1958, Msgr. Tighe was appointed as secretary to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications by Benedict XVI at the end of 2007.

Since then he has become well-known both within the Vatican and around the world, especially in the Anglosphere.

As secretary for the Pontifical Council of Communications, he took a lot of trips abroad in order to help create dialogue and generate better, more effective communication in an increasingly digital culture. He spent a lot of time in the U.S. and Canada in particular.

When Pope Francis began his reform of the Roman Curia in 2013 with the help of his council of nine adviser cardinals, one of the most immediate areas that needed attention were the Vatican communications operations.

In order map out what a possible reform of Vatican communications would look like, Francis established an international commission headed by British Lord Chris Patten to study the current process and provide suggestions. He named Msgr. Tighe as secretary to the commission, and when the time came the Irish monsignor presented their conclusions to the C9 in the presence of the Pope.

After the Pope established the new Secretariat for Communications in June 2015, naming Italian Msgr. Dario Vigano as its first head, Msgr. Tighe's work was officially complete, leaving him the possibility of either being reassigned to another position in the Curia, or to an Irish diocese.

Msgr. Tighe's appointment as adjunct-secretary to Culture was announced Dec. 19, 2015, as well as his nomination as bishop. He was assigned to the titular episcopal See of Drivasto in Albania.

He told CNA that the move to Culture "was a surprise" in the sense that he was expecting to return to Ireland, and that "interestingly" one of the things he had discussed with his Archbishop in Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, "was coming back and doing something precisely in the area of culture, public forum debates, the place of the faith and how it engages in the life of Ireland today."

"So therefore I have to say that it's good in a sense that I get this opportunity and I'm very excited that I'm ending up here in culture."

While his assignment to the council of culture was small surprise, his appointment as bishop was "a major surprise," Msgr. Tighe said.

"Being bishop in the Curia is very different than if one had become a bishop in a diocese," he said, explaining that after reflecting about what that means to be a bishop in a context that "is not as obviously pastoral," he thinks the appointment is "a statement of how important this area is for the Church."

It's a statement, he believes, that "they want to have somebody who will have the title of bishop so that you can engage with other bishops at a certain level and be able to encourage them and support them in thinking about how cultures need to be engaged with worldwide."

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His episcopal ordination will take place this Saturday, Feb. 27, in St. Peter's Basilica. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, will be the main celebrant. He will be assisted by both Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, as well as Archbishop Martin.

In addition to the 60 family members who are traveling from Ireland to be at Msgr. Tighe's ordination, an additional 50 friends and 20 priests will also be coming, as well as roughly 70 friends from the north of Italy.

Msgr. Tighe said that although he's no longer directly involved in Vatican communications, he believes the current reform is going well, and is sticking to the plan the commission had developed.

"Our understanding is that at the end of the day we needed a much more integrated Vatican media," in order to prevent "duplications and multiplications" of the same functions, he said.

In order to keep up in an increasingly digital world, content has to be "digital and multimedia and transmedia from the beginning," he said.

"So you needed to flip the operation a little bit so that you would have the capacity to generate very rich, multimedia digital content that then can be streamlined for particular broadcast media," he said, explaining that the commission's idea on how to do this was to create one management with one budget that would integrate all of the various offices for a more united function.

"I think that's exactly the route that they're on. I'm very pleased to see that," he said, explaining that while there will always be difficulties in getting from point A to point B, "certainly they're on the right path."

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The Irish bishop-elect said that although he's just getting started, one of the key aspects he sees in his new role is how faith, religion and the Church interact with society as a whole.

No matter where they come from, people's views are culturally determined, he said, explaining that although we're not always aware of it, "how we see the world, how we understand things, how we reflect on meaning, the priorities we give to our everyday life…have all been determined by a specific culture."

What he would like to do, then, is to "identify the positive in every culture, and then maybe to see the things that can be strengthened, that can be broadened out or deepened with the word of the Gospel."

As one of two English-speaking officials on the council, the second being layman Richard Rouse, Msgr. Tighe said he hopes to engage the Anglo-Saxon world on a higher level, particularly North America.

He said one of the other "privileged places" he'd like to engage with is how to work with universities, "because the universities are in the business of reflecting on and creating new cultures."

However, despite having some initial ideas, Msgr. Tighe said most of his time so far has been spent preparing for his ordination and studying how things are done before he needs to deliver on his work.

"Every office in the Vatican has its own culture, it has its own way of doing things," he said from his new office, one floor away from his previous one.

"What I'm trying to appreciate here is the enormous strengths of the staff with whom I will be working and seeing what I can bring and what I can contribute."