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Tuesday 21 May 2019

Vatican officials resign to end year of upheaval for the Pope's PR team

Mixed message: Paloma García Ovejero and Greg Burke with Pope Francis. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Mixed message: Paloma García Ovejero and Greg Burke with Pope Francis. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Philip Pullella

The Vatican spokesman and his deputy have resigned over disagreements on strategy, ending a year of upheaval in the Holy See's communications structure.

Spokesman Greg Burke, an American, tweeted that he and deputy Paloma García Ovejero, from Spain, had quit to let Pope Francis appoint a new team in what was a "time of transition".

A Vatican source said both Mr Burke and Ms Ovejero had wanted more autonomy from the Vatican department that oversees all communications, known as the Dicastery for Communications. They quit two weeks after Pope Francis appointed a personal friend, Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, to become editorial director of all Vatican communications.

The source said it was believed to be the first time both posts had changed hands simultaneously, underscoring the differences of opinion.

Mr Burke (59), a former Rome-based reporter for Fox News, joined the Vatican in 2012 as an adviser in its Secretariat of State and became spokesman in 2016.

He is a member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei.

Ms Ovejero (43) a former reporter for the Spanish radio network Cope, was one of the few high-ranking women in the Vatican.

During their tenure, the top two jobs in the Vatican press room were, unusually, held by non-Italians.

The Vatican said Alessandro Gisotti, an Italian journalist who has handled the Vatican's social media, would be interim spokesman.

Mr Tornielli is now the third-ranking person in the communications department but his closeness to the Pope, whom he has known since before the pontiff's election in 2013, will likely make him particularly influential.

Yesterday's resignations capped a year of tensions in Vatican communications.

Monsignor Dario Vigano resigned as overall head in March after a scandal over a doctored letter, a public relations fiasco two months after the Pope warned of the dangers of fake news.

He was replaced in July by Paolo Ruffini, ex-head of a Catholic television station. Mr Ruffini said he had learned of the decision by Mr Burke and Ms Garcia and respected it.

"The year ahead is full of important appointments that will require maximum communications efforts," Mr Ruffini said.

It was perhaps a reference to Francis's high-stakes summit on preventing clergy sex abuse in February, as well as his multiple foreign trips planned for 2019: to Panama, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bulgaria and Macedonia in the first half of the year, and rumoured trips to Madagascar and Japan in the second half.

Francis also has to deal with continued fallout from the clergy abuse scandal, in Chile, the US and beyond.

The next year will likely see the outcome of a canonical investigation into ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, accused of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians, as well as the results of a Vatican investigation into Mr McCarrick's rise through Church ranks.

Irish Independent

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