George Weigel says Pope Benedict is ill served by Vatican’s ‘archaic communications culture’. ‘

While praising Pope Benedict for proving himself a ‘fine pastor’, George Weigel criticises the Vatican Press office for letting the Holy Father down during recent crisis as a consequence of it ‘archaic communication culture’.

It particular Weigel believes that the Vatican has not adapted institutionally to the 24/7 media culture:

“They do not live in the 24/7 information environment. They don’t feel any institutional need to have a rapid-response mechanism that every other major institution has. So the impression is created they don’t care. That’s a false impression, but it’s an understandable one, given the fact that we’re all used to living in the same news cycle.”

He also criticises the Vatican Press Office  under the Rev. Federico Lombardi for not imposing ‘message discipline’ on the cardinals to avoid them messing up in public.

‘Weigel said the current Vatican press office under the Rev. Federico Lombardi does not insist on “message discipline,” leaving highly placed cardinals to sow controversy in personal remarks at official functions that do not reflect Benedict’s views.’

‘Weigel cited Cardinal Angelo Sodano’s observation during a Holy Week homily last year deploring as “petty gossip” criticisms of the church’s handling of the clerical sex abuse crisis.’

George Weigel also holds that a modern media office would have quickly resolved the confusion over Pope Benedict’s statement about condoms:

‘In addition, Weigel said a more professional communications apparatus might have dampened some of the recent confusion and sensation around a brief Benedict observation in the Seewald book about condom use and AIDS.’

Some theologians belatedly trying to explain the concept compared it to a bank robber having sufficient conscience to at least use an unloaded pistol to avoid hurting anyone. But by then, much of the public damage was done.

“Why Lombardi could not come up with an illustration of that is just beyond my imagination,” Weigel said. “And the church is not well-served by that. It’s not been a happy week.”

6 comments to George Weigel says Pope Benedict is ill served by Vatican’s ‘archaic communications culture’. ‘

  • John

    Here’s hoping that the new website the Vatican is working on will be a success and clearly present all the relevant information regarding the various issues that come up in the media.

    Talking of how the Church handles these matters, I recently came across this great priest in Amerca, Father Robert Barron. He has a website and collection of excellent YouTube videos. For example:

    On “The Next Generation of Catholic Commentariat”:

    On “Pope Benedict as a Witness to God”:

  • fd

    It’s not up to Mr Weigel to say how the Vatican should work. Cardinals are entitled to their own opininons, I think and Weigel should distinguish between official and non official statements , personal opinions to which Cardinals are entitled and Vatican “instructions” “They dont’ live in a 24/7 environment” Why should they? News would be distorted anyway buy disinformed and disinforming sources like the New York Times, or just not reported. What the Church does is out in the open, everyday, 24/7 to put it like Mr Weigel. What the Pope says can be heard or read by everybody . Both at the Angelus and at the Wednesday audience he speaks out in different languages he speaks in different languages and all his speeches are translated anyway. What the Pope says in books and encyclicals (the latter largely ignored by the main stream media) is black and white. What the New York Times, the Independent and the like do is black and black. Why should he quickly respond to them? The message would get distorted anyway. If people choose to be informed about the Church reading these outlets instead of resorting to more informed ones they are free to do it.
    Mr Weigel says a better Vatican press office would have not stirred the controversy.Are we sure? Then why don’t some media of his part of the world quote the Pope and L’Osservatore Romano when they speak out against exploitation of the third world, or the clamp down on bishops in China? The AP,the Nyt, reuters and I could go on and on have kept on distorting the Pope visit to Malta, to Portugal, to Britain, to Barcelona, to Palermo(see the Independent),and so on and so forth. Is it because of the Vatican press office? What the Vatican does, I repeat, is black and white. Some media reporting are black and black.What does the Vatican press office have to do with it? I think it should be clear to mr Weigel that the Church is not just a “major institution”, which has to be careful about what it says. The message of the Church is and remains counter-cultural. No Vat press office can soften it or make it more “digestible” and neither should it.As far as Card Sodano is concerned, I remember listening to his words in Italian on TV.Let us not forget that the New York Times and Der Spiegel had directly accused the Pope of mishandling the sex abuse scandal.Hence Cardinal Sodano talked about petty gossip . New York archbishop Timothy Dolan, now president of the US conference of bishops, went even further:he described the attack as innuendo,shouting of the mob,scorging at the pillar.
    Let us not forget that the Church,at the end of the day,is not (just)a vertical institution, but above all a horizontal one. I remember reading an enlightening interview in the Avvenire daily after the accusations by the Nyt which had a large echo in Europe and Italy. (A disgraceful Italian magazine cover said: ‘PAEDOPHILE PRIESTS:AND NOW WILL YOU STILL SEND YOUR KIDS TO THE ORATORIO ?’(which sort of translates into Church club) )
    Anyway about the Avvenire interview : the interviewed was a priest, who, when asked by the interviewee if parents from now on would be sort of scared to send their kids to the oratorio , smiled and said:not at all: do you know why?Because people know their priests. Yes, the will read the articles, yes they will be disturbed of course, but in the end, the face of THEIR priest will come to their mind and they will not hesitate to entrust their children to him.
    This st the Nyt will never grasp, will it? That’s why it still seethes with anger because his attacks do little or nothing. I remember reading an editorial by the Avvenire editor who said that some secularists just can’t tolerate that an institution which is so bare-facedly nonconformist is so succesful nonetheless.It’s just too much for them!
    The Vatican doesn’t need any quick responding press Office. the best press it can have is ACTION, and the Church’s constant commitment, as well as the strong,clear-never ambiguous words of the Holy Father(black and white, I repeat). Who doesn’t want to understand will never understand, even if the Vatican released news every second.
    Although I do believe mr Weigel is an honest and upright person , I can’t agree with him in the slightest on this topic

  • Annalisa

    I agree with Mr Weigel. The Vatican Press office is a disgrace. If it worked according to business rules, its employees would have been sacked long ago. The Vatican Press office is allowing errors and rumours to be spread around the world simply because they are too lazy or inept to send out the clear message of the Gospel.

  • fd

    I’m sorry Annalisa but rumours go about anyway. And there are countless news outlets the world over which systematically distort the facts and the news as far as the Catholic Church goes( it takes just a look at this great website(congratulation to the brave Rev Nick!!) to realize about it) .Moreover, the Vatican is not a business.
    If they responded to every absurd romour they would give importance to them. I praise Rev Nick and others for doing that. It’s right to do that. But it’s not up to the Vatican to do that. What they have to do is just DO. And people will see and judge for themselves. It’s all out in the open:the Pope’s speeches, the Pope’s visits, the Pope’s books, and Pope’s interviewes, the Pope’s audiences and Angelus, the hundreds of thousands who go to the Vatican for a blessing or the Papal audiences, the Vatican-run charities and so on and so forth. THERE’S NO NEED TO SEND OUT CLEAR MESSAGES BECAUSE THE MESSAGES ARE ALREADY-ALWAYS SENT OUT VERY VERY CLEARLY, IN A MOST TRANSPARENT WAY .THERE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO BE RUMOURS AND ERRORS ARE JUST …HUMAN (THANKS GOD) . Sorry I didn’t want to sound kind of impolite BUT DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT “THE VATICAN PRESS OFFICE IS ALLOWING ERRORS AND RUMOURS TO BE SPREAD AROUND THE WORLD?” The Nyt, sometimes the BBC, the AP and the like are allowing rumours and lies to be spread around the world! What on earth has the Vatican got to do with that? Paradoxically we wouldn’t even need a press office( allright there is and it’s good there is one) but people who WANT to SEE just see the great social commitment of the Catholic Church and people who wan to hear and listen hear and listen to the candid, never ambiguous words of the Holy Father. Full stop. WHAT ELSE DO WE NEED ?
    The misunderstanding about “Light of the World” would not have occured if people had read the book, and not just two lines. But time and again, some people just prefer to ignore an entire book, focusing on two lines, they prefer to ignore scores of Pope supportes(in Spain) and just focus on a handful of protesters, and so on and so forth. The problem here is that some people are not just lazy, they slant things on purpose, very painstakingly and with much effort if you think about that. Paradoxically it’s much easier to report things just as they are then making things up, no doubt about that.
    Sorry, I didn’t want to sound impolite and I respect your and everybody’s opinion but please think about the clearness and candidness of our Pope and then,please Annalisa askyourself : WHAT ELSE DO WE NEED ?

    • Tim H

      “The misunderstanding about “Light of the World” would not have occured if people had read the book, and not just two lines. ”

      There was hardly any genuine misunderstanding. There was plenty of willful misunderstanding and that come in equal measure from these who think that the Pope’s message was too hard line and those who thought the Pope too soft.

  • Lisa

    We need a Vatican press office that is as clear as the Pope.

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