Former Fox Reporter Takes on Vatican Role

Thursday, 05 Jul 2012 02:53 PM

By Edward Pentin

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In the days before he left for his four week summer vacation Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI made a series of key appointments in the Roman Curia, some of which place Americans at the center of influence.

Former Fox News correspondent Greg Burke becomes the Vatican’s first ever communications adviser. The move has been widely welcomed, with many saying he should have been brought a while ago. Instead, PR blunders have continued during this pontificate, as well as the serious breach of trust in the recent Vatileaks affair.

Greg-Burke.jpg
Former Fox journalist Greg Burke joins the Vatican as its first ever communications adviser. 
(Getty Images)
An affable, well-respected and popular reporter, the St. Louis-born journalist knows his new brief well having been exposed to the mass media and the Vatican for nearly 25 years.

Prior to working over a decade at Fox, he served as Rome correspondent for Time magazine and the National Catholic Register.

A colleague in the Vatican press corps who knows Burke well described it as “a very canny appointment.”

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi will continue as official media spokesman for the Holy See, and Burke compares his new role to that of the director of communications at the White House (a behind-the-scenes communications strategist rather than the Vatican’s equivalent to a press secretary).

When he takes up his post this week, Burke will be answerable to two influential superiors: the Vatican’s “No. 3”, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, essentially the Vatican’s chief of staff, and Tulsa -native Msgr. Peter Wells, who acts as his deputy.

Burke, a 52-year-old member of Opus Dei, says he has no illusions about going in and changing everything, and is aware of critics who say the Vatican’s culture needs to change in order to see any significant improvements. But he says he hopes to at least be able to “make a case to those who do make decisions, and be able to say: this could be really good, or that could be really dangerous.”

The root of the problem until now has been a lack of communication and coordination between the Secretariat of State (the Vatican’s executive branch) and the press office. As well as devising strategy, Burke’s job will also be to try to strengthen that nexus, though much will depend on how much information and influence Vatican officials are prepared to give him.

One priest close to the Vatican told Newsmax that he had high hopes for Burke, but hoped he had made good access to decision-makers a condition before taking the job, otherwise “he’ll find his task very difficult and may not last long.”

An even more notable appointment, however, was the Pope’s choice of his friend, German Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, as the Catholic Church’s doctrinal chief — one of the most important Curial positions that Benedict XVI himself held for nearly 25 years.

A native of Mainz in central Germany, the 64 year-old bishop takes over from Long Beach, Ca.-native Cardinal William J. Levada, 76, who has stepped down as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on age grounds.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, has described Bishop Müller as “one of the most distinguished theologians of our time.” But despite a record for being tough on dissenting clergy and laity, Müller comes with baggage, most notably dubious opinions on the Virgin Birth and the Eucharist, and counting a well-known Marxist as a close friend. These have caused some alarm, especially among traditionalists.

A key Vatican department may have lost an American, but other U.S. officials are finding their way into key Vatican positions. On June 26, the Pope appointed Bronx-born Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, until now number two at the Vatican’s office for liturgy, as his point-man in talks aimed at reconciling the breakaway traditionalist Society of St. Pius X with Rome.

DiNoia, who will return to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith where he served, partly under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 2002-2009, will be answerable to the newly-appointed Müller and hopes to reach an agreement with the Pius X Society’s Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay. The office he assumes has been susceptible to leaks (separate from the “Vatileaks” scandal allegedly involving the Pope’s valet). DiNoia, a well-respected Dominican theologian, is being hired partly because he is trusted for his discretion.

Together with Cardinal Raymond Burke of Wisconsin, no relation but he heads the Vatican’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, and Archbishop James Harvey, a long-serving head of the papal household, Americans have increasing clout at the Vatican.

It remains to be seen if their presence results in improving the effectiveness of transmitting the messages of the Pope and the Holy See — ones the Church desperately wants heard in today’s increasingly secular world.

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.

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