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I found this quote in my notes without a link. If anyone knows the source, I will happily correct it. Also, it is second-hand, so take it with the same grain of salt as that interview that ‘reconstructed from memory’ the ‘sense’ of the conversation. Still, this sums up what i have been hearing from many in the communications world of the Vatican for a year.
[UPDATED: From the New Yorker, and no apparent comment from Lombardi on the conversation].
James Carroll reports a conversation with Lombardi:
I met Lombardi in a spartan room in a grand Mussolini-era building just outside St. Peter’s Square. Lombardi is a dark-eyed, silver-haired man of seventy-one, who looks as if he could be an Italian film director. I asked what his life had been like since Benedict stepped down. Lombardi broke into a broad smile. Then he said, “We experienced for years—and for good reason, also—that the Church said, ‘No! This is not the right way! This is against the commandments of God!’ The negative aspect of the announcement . . . this was in my personal experience one of the problems.” Father Lombardi and I are almost the same age. In his earnest good will and kindliness, he struck me as the priest I would have liked to become. He said, “The people thought I always had a negative message for them. I am very happy that, with Francis, the situation has changed.” He laughed. “Now I am at the service of a message . . . of love and mercy.” He laughed again.
The Notre Dame Alumni Club of Italy is not particularly large, there are only about 60 people on the mailing list, and most are clustered around Rome or Milan. We had our first club gathering that I was able to attend tonight at the Holy Cross generalate, an apartment building owned by the order in a residential neighborhood just a few bus stops from the west end of the metro A line. There were about a dozen of us, a few Holy Cross priests including the superior general, Fr. Hugh Cleary, a couple of fellow Angelicum students, a couple of curial staff , and a young couple teaching at the American International School of Rome.
Conversation ranged from the usual introductions and getting to know you chatter to the challenges of life in Rome and obtaining the fabled Permesso di soggiorno or even Italian citizenship or a driver license. Given the state of the Church these days, however, one of the interesting topics was the clergy sex abuse/cover up scandal, the Holy Father’s role in cleaning up the Church, and mostly, the Church’s communication challenges.
Much has improved in the last decade, on one hand. You need only compare the responses of the curial leadership to the crisis in Europe in the last few months with the responses to the crisis in America in 2002 to see that Pope Ratzinger has had a positive effect on dealing with the problem realistically, but there is still a lot of work to be done – not just in the substance of solutions, but even more in the Vatican’s communication’s organs and “getting the word out” of the good work already done.
Few people realize just how disjointed the Holy See’s communications systems really are, though that has been made painfully clear with some of the well-intentioned but misguided attempts to “defend” the pope by some church leaders recently. There is no Vatican communication plan, no central organizing body. Each was set up in response to the development of a new media. Guttenburg comes along and we get the Vatican press; then Marconi and Vatican Radio; TV, a web page, etc, etc.
There is a Pontifical Council for Social Communications, but without the juridical authority of a Congregation, they can only make suggestions and maintain good working relations with the other communications apparatus’, which include:
- Vatican Information Service
- L’Osservatore Romano (The Vatican Newspaper)
- The Vatican Publishing House
- Sala Stampa della Santa Sede (The Vatican Press Office)
- Centro Televisivo Vaticano (Vatican TV)
- Radio Vaticana
- The Holy See’s Web page www.vatican.va
Not only are each of these separate, but most are in different buildings, some in several (Vatican Radio, for instance, has three different locations, I believe). Moreover, some have their own web-presence that does not go directly through the Vatican web page. Some dicasteries have their own information services and bulletins, from the Acta Apostolica Sedes to the PCPCU Information Service, which are not always available electronically or in translation.
It seems like the time is ripe for a major restructuring. It would not be easy, no doubt, and the directive has to come from the top, but there is no shortage of skilled lay people in the Church who could create a more effective communications strategy. In fact, they do not have to look further than the sons and daughters of Our Lady’s University to find a gold mine of resources right here in the Eternal City!