All eyes on new Vatican comms director after pope's apology

Pope Benedict XVI made headlines last week with his unprecedented apology after comments he made in a speech offended people of the Islamic religion.

Pope Benedict XVI made headlines last week with his unprecedented apology after comments he made in a speech offended people of the Islamic religion.

As a world leader and a person whose words affect millions, the pope needs a major communications network in place; the Vatican has just that.

Although Pope Benedict is known for writing his own speeches, previous popes have had to go through layers of edits and input from bureaucrats before any of their words reached the public. In the latter years of the previous papacy, most of Pope John Paul II's speeches were not written by him at all.

This system becomes a vital part of the Vatican's PR structure when considering the pope's recent faux pas and when looking at the vast communications network the Vatican has in place.

Why does it matter?

Until the past weeks, the Vatican's most recent newsworthy event was the conclave, the election of a new pope after John Paul's death. More than 4,000 journalists covered it. The Vatican surprised many for its unprecedented transparency at the time. But now it has a new director general of communications.

"We referred to [former director general Joaquin] Navarro-Valls as the papal spokesman," says Jeff Israely, Time's bureau chief in Rome. "I'm not sure we're ready to call Father [Federico] Lombardi that. Navarro-Valls established himself as a force in terms of power and influence. He rewrote the book for the way official and unofficial [information] channels would flow."

Israely adds that because this is Lombardi's first few weeks as the new director general of communications for the Vatican, it will be interesting to see how he handles corresponding with the press, especially considering the events of the past week.

Five facts:

1 Vatican Television Center (CTV) conducts 130 live broadcasts from the Vatican every year, allowing the world to take part in the pope's trips to Italy and abroad. Lombardi is the director general of CTV.

2 Programs from Vatican Radio are broadcast live every day and offered in 34 languages. They are sent out on short wave, medium wave, FM, and satellite.

3 L'Osservatore Romano is the weekly paper printed by the Vatican publishing house. It can be downloaded as a PDF from the Vatican Web site, www.vatican.va. The editor-in-chief is Mario Agnes.

4 The Vatican press office issues information to more than 400 permanently accredited journalists, while the Pontifical Council for Social Communications deals with photo, TV, and radio reporters.

5 In December 2005, the Vatican issued a 43-minute DVD that offers a behind-the-scenes video tour of its media empire.

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