The following comes from a Jan. 2 story on CruxNow by John Allen.
When news broke on New Year’s Eve that the Vatican’s two official spokespersons, American Greg Burke and Spaniard Paloma Garcia Ovejero, had resigned, words such as “sudden” and “unexpected” figured in many headlines.
One understands the point, as there had been no advance indication their exits were imminent. However, to be completely honest, I didn’t find the move “unexpected” at all, since I’ve been anticipating it since the two were appointed in 2016.
The reason is simple: Burke and Garcia Ovejero are, at heart, journalists, and journalists just aren’t meant to be corporate mouthpieces.
Both, of course, are devout Catholics, and so when the Church asked them to serve, they said yes. Yet that’s precisely the point – the Church arguably should have known better than to ask, because both Burke and Garcia Ovejero are more valuable on the outside looking in rather than the other way around.
Burke is a veteran American journalist with deep knowledge of Rome and the Vatican. He started out back in the day with the Catholic press, then made his way to Time and Fox News. Garcia Ovejero was the Rome correspondent for the Spanish radio network COPE, the official radio outlet of the Spanish bishops and the second largest radio platform in Spain, where she was known as perhaps the hardest-working journalist in town as well as an incredibly generous and supportive colleague.
Perhaps things would have been different had Burke and Garcia Ovejero been given a real opportunity to shape the Vatican’s message, with direct access to the boss and a meaningful role in the decision-making process. That, however, was never how their roles were conceived – they reported to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, not Francis directly, which means you had journalists dependent on bureaucrats.
Honestly, that’s never a prescription for success. (Had anyone in power at the Vatican consulted working journalists before this happened, a lot of the heartache might have been avoided.)
Rather than advising Francis on how certain decisions or statements will be received before the fact, so that misunderstandings can be avoided and the intended signals actually get across, Burke and Garcia Ovejero were reduced to either managing incidental aspects of the communications enterprise – tweets and Instagram postings, for instance – or basic maintenance of the Press Office itself.
Those tasks do not require highly talented, creative and driven journalists to perform….