Communications Problems

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, has acknowledged that improvements are required in how the Vatican publicizes its actions.

Father Lombardi spoke about the problem in an interview yesterday with the French Catholic newspaper Le Croix, Reuters reported.

The Vatican spokesman was speaking in the context of the continuing controversy that erupted late last month, following announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s lifting of the excommunications of four bishops belonging to the Society of St. Pius X.

One of the four bishops, Bishop Richard Williamson, made Holocaust-denying comments on Swedish television immediately before the lifting of the excommunications was announced. The Vatican subsequently said the Pope was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s remarks when he acted on the excommunications.

Here is an excerpt from the Reuters article:

“We didn’t control the communications,” said Lombardi, whose office originally announced the pope’s decision in a simple statement accompanied by the Vatican legal document that readmitted the four back into the Roman Catholic Church.

“I think we still have to create a communications culture inside the Curia, where each dicastery (ministry) communicates by itself, not necessarily thinking of going through the press room or issuing an explanatory note when the issue is complex.”

The Holocaust denial by Bishop Richard Williamson, broadcast three days before the Vatican announcement, overshadowed the public discussion of the move. Under heavy criticism, the Vatican demand on Wednesday that he publicly recant.

Lombardi, whose comments were distributed by La Croix before publication on Friday, said the Vatican could have avoided several hectic days if it had issued the order for Williamson to recant along with the announcement of the bans lifting.

“Especially when it’s about hot topics, it’s better to prepare the explanations,” he said.

Lombardi said the Vatican officials who dealt with the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), the breakaway group the four bishops lead, focused on the views of the group’s leader Bishop Bernard Fellay and not those of Williamson or the others.

“They didn’t take the views of the other bishops enough into account,” he said. “One thing that’s certain is that the pope didn’t know. If someone should have known, it was Cardinal (Dario) Castrillon Hoyos.”

Castrillon Hoyos heads the Vatican department that deals with traditionalist Catholics.
Lombardi said modern communications made it difficult for the Vatican to issue some statements.

“Certain documents are meant for specialist of canon law, others for theologians, others for all Catholics or all people,” he said. “But today, whatever the type of document, it all ends up directly in the public sphere. It gets difficult to manage.”

The announcement on lifting the excommunications was negotiated “up to the last minute,” the spokesman said, and some points remained a bit confusing.

“The communiqué accompanying it left too much in doubt, giving rise to different interpretations,” he said.

Along with reading the Reuters article, those interested in getting additional perspective about the problems in Rome’s communications apparatus can go here to read a critical analysis of the handling of the excommunications, posted Feb. 4 by veteran Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister on his website.