VATICAN CITY — U.S. journalist and former Register Rome correspondent Greg Burke will replace Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi as the Holy See’s chief spokesman, the Vatican announced today.
In a statement, the Vatican said Father Lombardi, who turns 74 at the end of August, will be stepping down next month as director of the Holy See’s Press Office — a position he began 10 years ago today, on July 11, 2006.
Burke, 56, a numerary (celibate member) of Opus Dei, told the Register that he was “humbled, honored and really excited” at the appointment by Pope Francis, especially coming at a time when all Vatican communications are being overhauled and undergoing significant reform.
“The purpose of my work is very clear: to serve the Pope,” he also told journalists after the July 11 announcement was made. Pope Francis had said he “prayed on this appointment,” Burke recounted of his meeting with the Holy Father. Although the appointment was not unexpected, the Missouri native later told CNA it was “an honor to have been given this trust of the Pope.”
“It’s a long list of virtues, so I hope to pick up part of that,” said Burke, who served as the Register's Rome correspondent from 1988 to 1992.
Paying tribute to Father Lombardi, Burke said he had the privilege of working with the Jesuit spokesman for four years and that he hopes to have learned “some of his patience, his calm and his absolute dedication — I’d watch him work from 8:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night.”
Father Lombardi has had to deal with many communication crises as Vatican spokesman during an age of instantaneous news, the first being the media fallout from Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture in September 2006. More recently, he has had to clarify some of Pope Francis’ controversial interviews and off-the-cuff remarks.
While he was spokesman, Father Lombardi also headed both Vatican Television and Vatican Radio, the former until 2013 and the latter until February this year.
Burke took over as deputy director of the Holy See’s Press Office in January this year, having served as the Vatican Secretariat of State’s strategic communications adviser since the summer of 2012.
A native of St. Louis, Burke is also a former Rome correspondent for Fox News and Time magazine.
Asked what he hopes to bring to the role, Burke pointed to his prior experience, not only of working both in the Vatican press corps, but also the time he spent first in the Secretariat of State and then the past six months in the press office, which has been “good training.”
“Most people who have landed in this job didn’t have that opportunity,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you know everything. It’s a complicated job, but it’s a help.”
The other quality he hopes to bring is the ability to work as part of a team. “All good communications is teamwork, and, fortunately, I spent my career in two places where that was highly valued.” Working on Time magazine was “group journalism,” he said, where two or three journalists worked on every article. And then, as a television correspondent, he worked with a large number of people to make programs. “I think the same is true here, and so that was good preparation,” he said.
His position as deputy Vatican spokesman will be filled by Spanish journalist Paloma García Ovejero, the first woman to ever serve in the role. García, 40, has been the Rome and Vatican correspondent for various television and news services since 2012 and speaks Spanish, English, Italian and Chinese.
As vice director of the Holy See Press Office under the pontificate of Pope Francis, the task is to “try to transmit exactly what he wants to say,” García said. “That’s my service; that’s my point: not to invent, not do it (beautifully): just, what he says, what he wants to say, what he wants the world to know.”
Burke appreciated the fact that, like him, García is a layperson. He also welcomed that she has been plucked straight from the Vatican press corps and her Spanish nationality. “The word of the day is ‘international,’” Burke said, “and that’s very positive.”
Burke and García will take up their new positions on Aug. 1.
CNA contributed to this article.
Edward Pentin is the Register's Rome correspondent.