The Vatican’s communications revolution beyond Twitter

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI launched his own Twitter feed this week (Dec. 3) to worldwide media coverage — it’s hard to resist the story of an octogenarian pontiff mixing it up with the digerati — and to considerable acclaim from church insiders.

The praise was understandable. After the spate of missteps that have come to define Benedict’s nearly eight-year papacy, it seemed that the Vatican might finally be able to get a jump on the 24/7 news cycle rather than always playing defense.

But the focus on the pope’s personal entry into social media (the Vatican has a general Twitter feed and Facebook page) is really a subplot to a larger, behind-the-scenes effort by the Roman curia to overhaul the Vatican’s notoriously byzantine communications apparatus and head off problems that can’t be glossed over by even the most appealing papal tweets.

That restructuring began in earnest this year following incessant criticism — many from Vatican allies — that Rome’s hapless messaging was accelerating controversies instead of defusing them.

From Benedict’s citation of an inflammatory passage on Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in a 2006 speech to his rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop in 2009, the pope had become known for creating gaffes rather than preaching the gospel. Behind Vatican walls the frustration was building.

The push for a communications reboot was given fresh urgency last January, following the infamous “Vatileaks” case in which papal valet Paolo Gabriele — who was convicted in October — secretly passed thousands of sensitive internal memos to the Italian media that portrayed the Vatican as a den of poisonous intrigue.

So how is the overhaul going now that things are settling down?

“It’s a work in progress,” said Greg Burke, the Fox News reporter who the Vatican hired last summer in an unusually high-profile move. “I’m just aiming for baby steps at this point, trying to get things moving in the right direction. And I think they are.” Continue reading


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