At CWR there is an article about the appointment of my friend Greg Burke as the Holy See’s new “director of communications”.
My emphases and comments.
The Vatican’s real communication problem
Greg Burke is an excellent choice for a tough assignment. But will he be allowed to the job?
By Russell Shaw
“Smart move.” That’s how many loyal Catholics reacted to the announcement that the Vatican had hired a veteran American newsman as a consultant to grapple with its communication problems.
In many respects, the reaction was correct. As an experienced professional with Fox News and Time, and a serious Catholic, [I can vouch for that.] Greg Burke is an excellent choice for a tough assignment. (Disclosure: he’s also an old friend.) But the question remains: Will he be permitted to do the job? Neither Burke nor anyone else can be of much help to the Roman Curia unless it’s open to being helped. [That was one of the first things I started worrying about.]
Goodness knows the Vatican needs PR assistance. [… examples…]
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. [Keep in mind that it is nothing new for there to be “scandals”. Each pontificate has them.] As anyone even casually familiar with the situation realizes, the underlying problems in Rome go deeper and have existed for years.
Burke is eminently well qualified to tell his new employers what the problems are and what should be done. What isn’t so clear is whether they’ll listen and act.
During three decades spent directing public relations at the national and international levels for several Catholic organizations including the American bishops’ conference, [NB:] I found that people at the top not infrequently imagine that good public relations is a matter of technique. Push a couple of buttons, do a little tweaking here and there, and behold—your previously tarnished image will glow.
Good technique is certainly important in communication, but seldom are problems like the Vatican’s only or mainly failures of technique. Instead they’re problems of attitude and philosophy. [AMEN!] In the case of the Vatican, the difficulties tend to be the bitter fruit of an entrenched clericalist culture linked to a similarly entrenched reliance on secrecy as a routine management tool. The result is a counterproductive approach to communication and media that lies far beyond correction simply by tweaking and technique.
Often, too, communication problems get blamed on the media: “The journalists are out to get us.” In fact, some reporters really are hostile to the Church, as are some news organizations. [Even paranoids have enemies!] But most professional journalists, including many personally at odds with Catholic views, want only to do a good job according to the standards of their profession, which means getting facts straight and correctly explaining what they mean. [Sure wish there were more of that type.] Where these men and woman are concerned, the explanation that “They’re out to get us” is neither fair nor helpful. It’s a non-explanation that impedes solutions instead of encouraging them.
All that said, it must be added that there are many good, dedicated people in the Vatican. One can only imagine how badly they—to say nothing of Pope Benedict himself—have been hurt by the recent shenanigans. A serious effort to understand the underlying causes of what’s happened as well as the more immediate ones would be a service to them as well as to the rest of the Church.
Greg Burke has what it takes to give the Curia good advice. But the problems run deep, and for Burke’s expertise to matter, he needs total, unflinching support from the top—from the Pope himself. Unless it’s forthcoming (and here’s hoping it is) don’t look for much improvement.
Time will tell.
I renew my request to the readers here that you stop and say a prayer, perhaps to St. Michael, for Greg Burke.