Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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An interview with the new editor in chief of L’Osservatore Romano.
BY The Editors
newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has been undergoing
something of a transformation over the past year. Not only has the layout been
altered, it has also been provoking debate on a number of issues, both inside
and outside the Church.
Much has to do with the newspaper’s
new editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, who is not only a journalist but also a
professor of Christian literature at Rome’s La Sapienza University. Vian — the
paper’s first new editor in chief in more than two decades — was appointed by
Pope Benedict XVI and was given instructions by the Holy Father on how the
paper could be improved.
He spoke Dec. 5 with Register
correspondent Edward Pentin from his offices in the Vatican about these changes
and the challenges of being editor of “the Pope’s newspaper.”
What were the Pope’s requests
The request was that the newspaper
should be more international. Until now, L’Osservatore Romano
never really had an international “breath.”
In the last 15 months, the space for
international news has doubled. I was also asked to pay particular attention to
the Eastern Catholic Churches. Of course, we’ve complied with these wishes and
also with the most recent one: to give more space to the feminine voice.
Women, in reality, have always been
present at L’Osservatore Romano: For example, the
weekly English edition is entirely published by women. But in the daily
edition, there were no women employed as journalists. So at the first opportunity,
I employed the first woman journalist, Silvia Guidi, for the daily edition.
Another request was to give space to
intellectuals and academics for particular articles, such as the one written by
[Lucetta] Scaraffia, dealing with the subject of brain death. We also issue
articles written by economists.
When I was appointed by the Pope, he
wrote me a letter, stressing that L’Osservatore should
be a place for discussion, debate, open to confronting ideas both among
believers and non-believers. So we are trying to do that with a newspaper
written not only by Catholics but also by non-Christians, by Jews and Muslims.
Many have welcomed these
changes, but some are uneasy. The Vatican watcher Sandro Magister wrote
recently that some in the Vatican are unsure of the newspaper’s new direction.
What do you say to these criticisms, in particular that it seems to be becoming
more secular than Catholic?
To me, these criticisms are
unjustified, because the newspaper obviously remains the Pope’s newspaper. It
would be crazy if the paper lost its specificity and character. What we stand
for is very clear and coherent with the tradition of the Church’s teachings.
Romano expresses those points essential to the doctrinal line of the
Church, the thoughts of the Holy See. But the newspaper isn’t the official
publication of the Vatican. The official part is only a small section of the
paper called Nostre Informazioni (our information) that
deals with the audiences and the appointments of the Pope.
All the papal discourses are
All of them, but not only them, even
though they constitute the most important part of the newspaper. For example,
we have doubled the section dealing with cultural subjects, and we give a lot
of space to interviews.
The recent piece on brain death
provoked a big debate. [Lucetta] Scaraffia, a guest writer, reopened a debate
on whether brain death really establishes the end of life, and therefore
whether current transplant practices are permissible. The Church has usually
been understood to believe that it did, but the teaching has never been fully
This is a disputed, open question.
Professor Scaraffia drew attention to the debate, started at Harvard 40 years
ago, which has always been problematic. She said that brain death is not a
dogma but a criterion that can be discussed, even though this point sounded
offensive to many.
The Pope himself invited the
scientific community to be open to this debate when, on Nov. 6, 2008, he
addressed a conference on the subject, quoting the compendium of the Catechism
that doesn’t speak of brain death but of real death.
Is this is an example of the
kind of discussion you want to promote?
Yes, this kind of discussion which
is “in progress,” one might say. Certainly, the newspaper is very clear in
expressing that human life begins at conception and ends at death, and we
defend the human being from abuses in the same way in which we defend the right
of religious freedom.
Do you have plans to invite
similar such discussions?
I would like to continue in this
way, in producing a newspaper as interesting as possible. L’Osservatore
has always been a newspaper that has to be read in its totality. We hope to
continue in this tradition, making it even more interesting.
Does the Secretariat of State
monitor closely what you write?
Yes, certainly great attention is
paid to our editorials, and the Pope himself pays great attention to them. They
seem happy enough with what we publish.
Until now, there have been only some
small mistakes. But, I repeat, we must pay particular attention to certain
international issues, particularly nuclear weapons, the Middle East and China.
We must be very careful about these three topics, but we have a lot of freedom
with the rest of the newspaper.
I understand what is appropriate,
and I can work with autonomy, and, for example, do many more interviews than
The interviews are an innovation
Yes, this is an innovation. For
example, we’ve had an interview with Italy’s head of state and a wonderful
interview with the editor in chief of Corriere Della Sera
on the question of Pius XII.
He is Jewish and defended Pius XII in a way no one else would have done. I know
him very well, and I knew that he had a good opinion of Pope Pacelli, but I
didn’t think he would defend him with such determination.
We commemorated the 50th anniversary
of Pius XII’s death with many important articles. For example, we published a
very important discourse pronounced by the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio
Bertone on Pius XII and his time as secretary of state and as Pope.
All these texts will be published in
a book by an Italian non-Catholic editor in the spring.
Are you concerned, though, that
bringing in so many voices of writers from different religions, you are giving
an image of relativism?
All the writers hosted in L’Osservatore
Romano — believers or non-believers — must express respect for the
Church’s teachings and for the human person.
So is the Pope very happy with
I hope so. Every time I seem him, he
seems happy with what we’re doing and tells me to carry on. To me, the Pope is
a very kind person, but if he wasn’t happy with anything I was doing, I would
What have been the highlights
for you so far as editor? What are the best changes you’ve introduced, in your
At the moment, the newspaper is very
neat and simple. There are only eight pages total, and the paper’s layout and
graphics are very nice.
The first and the last pages are
printed in color, and this is something new. We always look for symbolic and
original photos. All the color photos are reproduced on our website. The Pope
specifically wanted more photos to be issued in the paper.
In July 2007, we also started
translating the English weekly edition into Malayalam, the language used in
Kerala, India. We also produce a monthly Polish edition. We have no plans to
publish a daily English edition — we would need good translators and many of
them. But we have an extensive archive available online, and each year we
record all our editions on CD-ROM. All the collection of the newspaper,
starting from 1861, are recorded on CD-ROM.
Do you have any other projects
for the future?
I’ve mentioned almost all of them.
We’d like to develop the paper still further, first of all because as a paper
we can defend the Pope in a better way.
Edward Pentin writes
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