Greg Burke's Appointment Signals Beginning of Communications Reform

Greg Burke.
Greg Burke. (photo: YouTube)

After an eighteen-month study and seeking the advice of media experts on reforming the Vatican’s media operation, three Vatican appointments over the past couple of days have signaled the beginning of those reforms.

The Holy See announced today that St. Louis native and former Register and Fox News correspondent Greg Burke is to become the new vice director of the Holy See Press Office, replacing San Marino Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini who has served in the role for 20 years.

The position has until now involved assisting the press office director in staging press conferences, overseeing administration, and disseminating information, as well as sometimes representing the Holy See in Father Lombardi’s absence.

Since June 2012, Burke has served as senior communications adviser at the Secretariat of State, a largely behind-the-scenes role in which he was responsible for the Holy See’s media strategy and helping to improve the Pope’s public image.

Initially hired during the pontificate of Benedict XVI after a series of media “gaffes,” Burke has tried to make the Vatican more media sensitive and aware. He has helped to launch a papal twitter account in December 2012 but his main role has been “putting out fires” and preventing potentially damaging public relations mistakes from reaching the media.

In recent weeks, Burke, an Opus Dei numerary, had been rumored to be a potential successor to Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. But it appears Father Lombardi may remain in the role for the foreseeable future, possibly until he reaches the usual Vatican retirement age of 75 in eighteen months’ time. He may then make way for Burke who, by then, will have gained valuable experience shadowing Father Lombardi for the role.

The appointment of Burke, 55, leaves Father Thomas Rosica’s position in some doubt. The Basilian priest and founder of Salt and Light Television has been serving as English language attaché at the Holy See Press Office for the past couple of years, effectively acting as Father Lombardi’s English language deputy. 

Burke’s appointment follows that of Msgr. Paul Tighe who Pope Francis appointed Saturday as Adjunct Secretary at the Pontifical Council for Culture and elevated to bishop. Since 2008, Bishop-elect Tighe has served as Secretary at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

During that time, the 57-year-old Irish monsignor played a significant role as secretary to the Committee for Vatican media, a special commission headed by Lord Patten of Barnes to recommend possibilities for Vatican communications reform. At the conclusion of the committee's work, Msgr. Tighe presented its conclusions to Pope Francis and the “C9” Council of Cardinals.

At the Pontifical Council for Culture, Msgr. Tighe may continue to work in media outreach to promote communications reform, in harmony with the new Secretariat for Communications that Francis established through an apostolic letter published in the summer.

That letter stated that the Pontifical Council for Social Communications would be incorporated into the Secretariat for Communications. Also becoming part of the Secretariat is the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Internet Service, Vatican Radio, Vatican Television Centre (CTV), L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican Typography, Photograph Service, and the Vatican Publishing House (Libreria Editrice Vaticana).

Msgr. Dario Viganò, until now director of CTV, is heading the Secretariat. Possibly due to excessive workload and conflicting interests in that position, the Vatican also announced today that he is to be replaced by Italian layman Stefano D’Agosotini, a longtime CTV official.