The vaticanista Luigi Accattoli, who writes for the NYT of Italy, Corriere della sera, has interesting comments about the way the two big recent documents were released, the Motu Proprio and the Letter to Chinese Catholics. This is worth a scan. You decide. My translation:
The Vatican and Weekend Diplomacy
Two important documents of Pope Benedict – perhaps the most importance for "governance", among the many he has sighed until today – came out on a Saturday and were not presented with the ritual press conference: last Saturday the Letter to Chinese Catholics and today the "Motu Proprio" on the Tridentine Mass. Though I don’t want to scrape up big meanings from little signs, as an old accredited vet of the Vatican Press Office I remember that the directors always took care not to publish important documents on Saturday they would not be lost in the weekend media desert, which in Italy we don’t experience so much, but which is nearly total in Germany, Great Britain, North America and the vast share of the world. Another precaution was always to encourage media attention with a presentation entrusted to the major figures responsible for the document, who offered themselves for journalist’s questions. The intention to lessen media impact for these two cases, today’s and last Saturday’s, is evident. They had to be afraid that a good global echo from the Letter to the Chinese would drive Beijing to a precipitous negative response. For the liturgy they thought that it was best not to give support to the excessive expectation that the controversy over the issue had already fired up in France and America. A strategy of lowering the bar of perceptions was adopted – with another solution – in 2003 for the publication of a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons": instead of Saturday, that text was given to the media on 31 July which is perhaps, in Europe, the one day of the year with the least media vigilance there is. It was given without a press conference, of course.
Here is the original:
Il Vaticano e la diplomazia del weekend
Due importanti documenti di papa Benedetto – forse i più importanti come “governo”, tra quanti ne ha firmati fino a oggi – sono usciti di sabato e non sono stati presentati con la rituale conferenza stampa: sabato scorso la lettera ai cattolici cinesi e oggi il “motu proprio” sulla messa tridentina. Pur non volendo cavare grandi significati da piccoli indizi, da vecchio accreditato della Sala Stampa vaticana ricordo che sempre i suoi responsabili hanno avuto cura di non pubblicare documenti importanti il sabato per non incappare nel deserto mediatico del fine settimana, che in Italia avvertiamo poco ma che è totale in Germania, Gran Bretagna, America del Nord e vastamente nel mondo. Altra precauzione è stata sempre quella di incoraggiare l’attenzione dei media con una presentazione affidata ai maggiori responsabili del documento, che si offrivano alle domande dei giornalisti. E’ evidente per i due casi di oggi e di sabato scorso l’intenzione di alleggerire l’impatto mediatico. Devono aver temuto che una buona eco mondiale della lettera ai cinesi costringesse Pechino a una precipitosa risposta negativa. Per la liturgia avranno pensato che era bene non assecondare l’eccesso di attesa che la querelle in materia aveva già acceso in Francia e in America. Una strategia di abbassamento della soglia di percezione era stata adottata – con altra soluzione – nel 2003 per la pubblicazione di un documento della Congregazione per la dottrina intitolato “Considerazioni circa i progetti di riconoscimento legale delle unioni tra persone omosessuali”: invece che di sabato, quel testo fu dato ai media il 31 luglio che è forse – in Europa – il giorno dell’anno con la minore vigilanza mediatica in assoluto. Naturalmente fu dato senza conferenza stampa.
Alternatively, perhaps the vatican have worked out that those most interested in it can now obtain the information for themselves on the internet from places like vatican.va and WDTPRS etc. and far better to release it on a day when they won’t be at work. That way the first they see is the real thing not some spun distortion from the secular media and parts of the catholic media who should know better.
I think that your interpretation is valid. Those of us awaiting this MP with joy now know what it says. We can copy it and distribute it in our parishes. If the priests object, we should ask why. Surely father is not wishing to separate himself from the Pope?
Paul: From my experience, Signor Accattoli hit it on the head.
A strategy such as this perhaps to limit the fanfare is
undersatandable. I would be concerned that this will
allow some of the people who oppose the MP,particularly
who are permitted to wear purple an opportunity to
the impact. I keep praying.
“Pope’s move on on Latin Mass ‘a blow to Jews'”, etc.
All of these mainstream articles appear to be written based on the Anti-Defamation League’s press release entitled “ADL Calls Vatican Prayer for Conversion of Jews ‘A Theological Setback’ and ‘A Body Blow to Catholic-Jewish Relations'”
(the actual text of their PR has now been taken down)
By not providing the press with any alternative information or clear explanation, the Vatican has let the ADL rule the coverage. If they are not going to even try to control the message, then I guess Saturday is the best day to do it.
I think it also is a matter of the Ratzinger personality. He has always been someone who favored quiet substance over media-grabbing style. His is not the MO of the political gesture or of Time Magazine covers. He took the name of a man who hundreds of years ago went to live in a cave, then the monastery. Of course, the irony is that St Benedict, the man who led the hidden life, influenced the whole world and became Patron of Europe.
Equally ironic is that Joseph Ratzinger was the most famous man ever elected pope.
Further, he is a realist rather than a triumphalist–no press releases like the crock from the Bishops of Scotland proclaiming how the Church is flourishing. And he will use his chain of command to implement his “program of governance”.
â€œPopeâ€™s move on on Latin Mass â€˜a blow to Jewsâ€™â€, etc.
The Jews are looking out for numero uno.
Now for the work ahead. Father, please give us a working plan to round up enough Catholics to go to a parish priest and present ourselves as a “stable community” that would like to celebrate a Tridentine Mass.
This is how the local paper in the Southeastern area of Virginia is reporting the Motu Proprio….the headline reads “Catholics Split on newly-revived Latin Mass”. The comments of some of the diocesan clergy and employees leave you with the feeling that nothing new will come of it….
RBrown: I think it also is a matter of the Ratzinger personality.
I think it was timidity on the part of SecState et al.
Fr. the Weekend Diplomacy idea is interesting. THanks for posting this.
Also interesting is the character of that man, as RBrown says, “the most famous man ever to be elected pope.” He’s very modest, unassuming,even personally shy. I have a feeling he really would have personally preferred solitude and prayer. (He has actually written but I can’t remember which book, that he would have preferred the life of an academic theologian, but this was written quite a few years ago.) In person, one can see it in his eyes, but he never shirks the responsibility of the papacy. This MP, in fact, is a righting of a great and monumental injustice, historic in nature.
Paul is right about one thing. It was a weekend so that many working people got a copy right away. We didn’t have to read some scoop by the NYT or some ideologically tainted thing from someplace first, which would only have been confusing. We didn’t have to start answering questions from non-catholic coworkers without seeing the document first. (Yes, this happens–a lot.) We had time to read the actual document and express our deep joy privately & properly–which is part of the intention of the document, healing. The document, after all, pertains to laypeople and priests very directly.
I think it was timidity on the part of SecState et al.
Comment by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
Maybe, but Italians don’t pick fights unless the odds are heavily in their favor. What is it they say about themselves? Corriamo sempre in soccorso del vincitore
Perhaps poeple don’t listen to the big stream media like they used to. I suspect that is the case. Many people get their news now, in a spirit of liberty from the Internet, even going to the sources on occasion. There is wide and justified distrust of the big news media.
And in the matter of the Chinese letter, although what’s written in the NYT (et al) may affect the reception of the letter in terms of international politics, some scathing editorial can hardly make the actual document more widely read among Chinese laity and priests who are probably having to pass actual copies hand-to-hand now anyway (It’s been wiped from internet access in China).
In the last few years, we have seen the emergence of the practice of simultaneously releasing documents to everyone all at once on the Internet at Vatican.va. It started during the reign of PJP2. I have always believed that it is a tacit recognition of several things:
a) that most laypeople *never* hear Vatican directives from their parish staffs or diocesan personnel, but will read them at Vatican.va, the hugely successful outlet of the Holy See,
b) that giving foes advance notice of what’s coming only makes organized opposition easier to mount,
c) that all attention is not good attention from the media.
I believe that this was learned along about the time the Vatican caught onto the translation thing, most particularly the translation of the Catechism of the Catholic church. The Roman lights went on when they saw our first translation drafts. (Have you ever seen those? They’ve been published in part.)
It’s distinction time, and I think that the Vatican has done this well.
RBrown: The Jews are looking out for numero uno.
That would be… Jews for Jesus, right?