I am not one who shies away from criticising the Church when criticism is warranted. And in recent years, there have been plenty of things to criticise, not least the way the Church has handled some of the media issues it has faced in that time. It seems that people in the Vatican’s halls of power recognise that, too, and they’ve decided to do something about it.
It was announced over the weekend that experienced journalist Greg Burke would be joining the Vatican’s staff as a media adviser. More on him in a minute.
One of my reasons for wanting to remain in Catholic communications is my feeling that the Church has a great message to share and sometimes it struggles to find the right way to share it. While I could sit on the sidelines and lament the Church’s shortcomings in the communications area, I believe it is more useful to use what skills and experience I do have to try to communicate the Gospel message in one form or another. At the moment, it’s by way of the contribution the Church makes in the area of health and aged care. In the future, it may be something else, but I plan to remain open to working for the Church as long as my circumstances allow it.
Now, I’m not by any stretch trying to compare myself with someone with such vast experience as Burke, but — like I did last year — he’s making the leap from day-to-day journalism to media advising. Most will recognise that it’s a natural transition from making phone calls to media/communications folks into the world of answering those phone calls. Burke makes that point in an interview with Catholic News Service.
While he is not an expert in PR or communications, Burke said his experience covering news events at the Vatican and throughout Europe and the Middle East means “I know what journalists are looking for and what they need, and I know how things will play out in the media.”
And here’s some more of Burke’s back story.
Burke, a native of St. Louis, told Catholic News Service June 25 that his job will be to help “shape the message” coming out of the Vatican and make sure everyone there “stays on message.”
It’s a role similar to the White House’s director of communications, who supplements the work of a more visible spokesperson, Burke said, as he described some of the challenges he plans to address: “What’s the message we want to get out? How do we get it out?” And how does the Vatican respond to issues getting traction in the media?
The communications strategy “sounds very simple, but its execution will be very complicated,” he said.
He will also help develop and strengthen lines of communication among the Holy See’s numerous communications outlets, which include TV, radio, a newspaper, a book publishing house and a press office. He will work with Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the No. 3 official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, and U.S. Msgr. Peter B. Wells, assessor for general affairs.
Burke, who’s a graduate of Columbia University’s school of journalism, has spent the past 24 years based in Rome as a journalist — with the National Catholic Register, Time magazine and, for the past 10 years, the Fox News network.
Burke said he has been covering the Vatican long enough “to know that no one walks in and changes things” overnight. But, he said he hopes “this post is a step in the right direction” and that he will be able to alert the right people in advance of any potential message mix-ups.
An appointment of this kind should have been made years and years ago, but as my headline states, based on the speed at which the Vatican often works (or doesn’t work), it’s better late than never.