Pope Francis and the work of reform

Reform never happens all at once, and, frankly, at the level of details it’s often boring as hell. Statutes for a new communications department approved by Pope Francis and released Thursday don’t exactly make gripping reading, but they suggest that reform is becoming irreversible.

Here’s the thing about important historical reforms: They almost never happen all at once. Usually the turning points that matter unfold over protracted periods of time, and their contents are, frankly, often boring as hell at the level of detail.

We got another reminder of the point on Thursday, as the Vatican released a set of statutes for a new “Secretariat of Communications” approved by Pope Francis more than a year ago as part of his broader reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s central administrative bureaucracy.

For decades, anyone with eyes could see there was a problem with the Vatican’s communications operation. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, with Vatican Radio, Vatican TV, the Vatican Press Office, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican book publishing arm, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, as well as several other offices, all doing their own thing, with the thinnest possible veneer of coordination.

The result was both an administrative and PR disaster. There was widespread duplication of efforts and resources, as well as the perennial danger of mixed messages and internal contradictions.

(To be clear, I’m talking the structures of Vatican communications, not the people who work in them, who generally turn in heroic and high-quality effort for relatively little by way of material reward.)

As pope, Francis knows he was elected on a reform mandate, and he also knows that few would take the effort seriously if it didn’t address the communications problem. If he were in any doubt, the fact that his C-9 council of cardinal advisers from around the world, from the beginning, pressed him to take up the communications challenge would have resolved it. Continue reading

  • John L. Allen Jr. is the editor of Crux, specializing in coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church.
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