Will entrenched Curia mandarins allow Greg Burke to do his job?

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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. q7swallows says:

    Welcome, Mr. Burke! A prayer to St. Michael for you and for all the people you’ll be interacting with.

  2. Bea says:

    Prayers going to St. Gabriel, The Archangel and to St. Isidore of Seville to bring out the Truth clearly, as well as to St. Michael to silence the nay-sayers and Greg Burke’s Guardian Angel, that Unadulterated Truth may prevail.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    Secrecy in itself is not always a Bad Thing, but false-hearted Machiavellian machinations have no rightful place in the temple of God. St. Michael, defend the Church.

  4. acardnal says:

    As background, Russell Shaw, the writer of the article, is a distinguished American Catholic writer and a member of Opus Dei.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    A lot of the secrecy is either being discreet, or keeping a good face on things. For those in the loop, pretty much nothing seems to be secret. (Though of course, these people also hear all kinds of rumors and inside information that doesn’t pan out.) So I think that a lot of Vatican insiders figure that they’re incredibly open and transparent, to the point that people outside the Curia in non-Vatican jobs sometimes seem to know all about stuff that most Vatican people don’t.

    For those of us out of the loop, though, or inexperienced in understanding what people say and don’t say, Vatican stuff can be very impenetrable. It may seem almost unbearably blunt to an Italian guy from the Curia, to just come right out and say what’s happening. But the rest of the world kinda needs to know, because we can’t all go to Rome and schmooze.

  6. chcrix says:

    “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.”

    The last clause is simply nonsense.

    Doing a good job according to the standards of their profession MEANS adopting certain viewpoints.

    I am not saying that the main stream media is simply anti-catholic – their agenda is far broader than that.

    But ask yourself this:
    Who helped stir up most wars from the Spanish-American to the gulf wars
    Who have been cheerleaders for every ‘progressive’ initiative in the last 100 years
    Who reports glowingly on every instance of ‘ordination’ of ‘womenprysts’
    Who calls sexual misconduct with 16 year old boys ‘pedophilia’
    Who soft-pedals stories like ‘fast and furious’ that would have led to the impeachment of a Nixon?

    The agenda is broad and not remotely limited to Catholicism, but straight reporting and explanation? Give me a break.

  7. heway says:

    Prayers being said. While reading this it occured to me that probably every chancery could use a ‘Greg Burke’. Secrecy or glossing the facts can lead to great distrust, especially when the press is denied access to those things which are ‘public’. One cannot claim lack of transperancy because it concerns the church or bishop. Been there! Try to evangelize where there are questionable events within the diocese, not just the Vatican.

  8. Tina in Ashburn says:

    The more things change, the more things stay the same.

  9. sirlouis says:

    My prayer is more fervent when I recollect what happened when Frank Keating signed on to help the American bishops deal with the abuse scandal. The secrecy and back-door dealings led him to throw in the towel. It’s a deeply rooted problem. Remember Blessed Cardinal Newman’s treatment by the Irish bishops? Here’s praying the bishops learn from their colleague, Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, who was set down in a pot of abuse mismanagement scandal that was kept stirred by the loathsome Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He was surpassingly open and engaged, with one result being that the newspaper soon lost interest. The stories receded from page one to being buried in the back.

  10. The Egyptian says:

    some people seem to set themselves up for heart burn, good luck, I can hear it now, Burke, go make this pigs ear into a silk purse, now, chop chop

    A question, if Burke is told to tell white lies or gloss over the facts, is he guilty of the sin or the one instructing him. I sometimes think that the bureaucrats are nest of vipers, Not the Church, just some in it

    Like a naive friend of mine after his first parish council meeting, looked at my dad and exclaimed “this sounds just like politics” all my dad could do was laugh

  11. digdigby says:

    “Entrenched Curia Mandarins” – what an image that brings up – something from The Last Emperor. Of course they all where their venerable insignia, The Miassis Dragon.

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