The Vatican has turned to a Fox News reporter for help to improve its relations with the media amid communications blunders and a leaks scandal. The Holy See hired the Channel’s Rome correspondent for the position of senior communications adviser.
The TV journalist Greg Burke is also a member of the Opus Dei movement, described by Dan Brown in his “The Da Vinci Code” as a “secretive, powerful and murderous sect whose members whip themselves bloody.” The best-selling book portrays the sect as being at the root of an international Catholic conspiracy. Burk said he didn’t know what, if any, role his membership in Opus Dei played.
Burke, Fox’s Rome-based correspondent for Europe and the Middle East, will leave the channel and assume the new post of senior communications adviser to the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s key department responsible for all political and diplomatic functions.
His role will be similar to that of a communications adviser in the White House.
“You’re shaping the message, you’re molding the message, and you’re trying to make sure everyone remains on-message. And that’s tough,” Burke said in a phone interview with the Associated Press.
`I’m a bit nervous but very excited,” he added.
He will report directly to the Vatican’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the third-ranking person in the Vatican hierarchy.
“I told them no twice but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the right thing to do. I can’t imagine a more exciting challenge for me at this time,” Burke told Reuters.
The last journalist to work for the Vatican’s communications structure was Joaquin Navarro-Valls, a Spanish newspaper correspondent and also Opus Dei member. Navarro-Valls went on to become Pope John Paul II’s longtime spokesman, holding the post for 22 years.
After Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, Navarro-Valls was replaced by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit who had long headed Vatican Radio as well as running the Vatican press office and Vatican television service. Father Federico Lombardi will reportedly remain the spokesman.
“Hell of a job”
Since 2005, the pontificate of Pope Benedict has been mired in a difficult relationship with the media and a number of so-called communication blunders.
Just recently the Vatican’s number two, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, accused the media of trying “to imitate Dan Brown” in their coverage of the damaging revelations scandal, dubbed ‘Vatileaks’.
He accused the media of “intentionally ignoring” the good things the Church does while dwelling on scandals.
The scandal involves the leak of sensitive documents, including letters written to Pope Benedict whose butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested last month after a large number of stolen documents were found in his home.
Meanwhile, the Vatican Bank is under media fire as reports emerge that Italian prosecutors suspect it of laundering Sicilian mafia bosses’ riches.
Communications calamities for the Vatican have also included the Pope’s decision in 2009 to lift the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including that of a Holocaust denier whose rehabilitation sparked outrage among Jewish groups.
Another public relations crisis for the Vatican hit in 2006 when Muslims around the world interpreted a speech by the pope at Regensburg, Germany as an attack on Islam.