Pope Appoints Award-Winning Lay Journalist as Head of Vatican Communications

NEWS ANALYSIS: Paolo Ruffini has broad experience in press, television and radio, as well as being the nephew of the late Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini.

Paolo Ruffini is the new prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication.
Paolo Ruffini is the new prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication. (photo: LUMSA)

Pope Francis has appointed a respected, award-winning lay journalist to head the Dicastery for Communication, replacing Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano who had overseen many reforms but was forced to resign earlier this year after the “Lettergate” scandal.

Paolo Ruffini, who becomes the first ever layman to head a Vatican dicastery, was born in Palermo, Sicily, and from 2014 until his appointment today was director of the Italian bishops’ conference television channel, TV2000. 

Prior to that, he held leading roles within the Italian state television channel RAI Tre (where according to one report his record was “indisputable” and “could not be faulted”), and then the national commercial television station, LA7. 

Ruffini, 61, began his career in 1978 as a reporter for Mattino di Napoli, before moving to Rome and joining the national daily Il Messaggero in the 1980s. He married in 1986, and eventually became deputy editor of the newspaper in 1996. That same year, he became director of Giornale Radio Rai, a state-run radio station, where he created special editions dedicated to culture, medicine, science and the environment. 

The Italian journalist then held positions at various other radio channels before joining RAI Tre in 2003 where he increased its audience share. After a temporary absence due to a dispute with the ruling Berlusconi government in 2009, he returned to his post at RAI Tre in 2010 after the disagreement was resolved.  

The new prefect of the Dicastery for Communication has received several awards for his journalism and taken part in numerous seminars on the role of Christians in communications, ethics in communications and new media. 

But also of interest is his lineage: Ruffini comes from a fairly prominent Italian family, his father being the late Attilio Ruffini, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Christian Democratic party. 

He is also a nephew of the late Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini (1888-1967), a former Archbishop of Palermo appointed by Pope Pius XII. Cardinal Ruffini resisted communism and the mafia, and was cautious about Church reform during the Second Vatican Council. 

Another of Paolo Ruffini’s relations is right-wing Italian politician, Enrico la Loggia, who served as Minister for Regional Affairs in two Berlusconi administrations and is currently an Italian senator.

Ruffini therefore arrives in his new Vatican position well connected — an important attribute to have in Rome, and which could be helpful in giving Vatican communications more of a voice in national and global media. 


Msgr. Vigano’s Resignation

He succeeds the acting head of the dicastery, Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, who was filling the role of prefect following the sudden resignation in March of Msgr. Vigano.

The Brazilian-born former prefect had served as head of the then-Secretariat for Communications since 2015, and implemented a series of extensive and often controversial reforms aimed at improving efficiency and cutting down costs.     

But in mid-March, Msgr. Vigano inaccurately represented a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and doctored a photograph of the letter in a way that made it seem as though Benedict was fully endorsing a series of books on the theology of Pope Francis. 

Actually, the letter communicated that Benedict had not been able to read the entire series, and also had expressed concern over the inclusion in the series of a theologian who during his own papacy, the Pope Emeritus wrote, had “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology.”

After the story received global attention, Msgr. Vigano resigned as prefect, but the Pope asked that he be appointed assessor of the Secretariat — its third highest position.

Ruffini is expected to continue the reforms started by Msgr. Vigano, the next phase being the amalgamation of four remaining communications entities: the semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano (which has so far held out against changes to preserve its autonomy), the Vatican’s photographic services, its printing press and its publishing house. 

Twelve language sections from what was once Vatican Radio have still to be merged into the Vatican News website, something expected to be completed later this year. 

A persistent criticism of those who had led the reforms was a seeming unwillingness to listen or heed the advice and feedback from staff in Vatican communications, particularly in the now defunct Vatican Radio. 

It will be interesting to see if Ruffini manages to give a much-needed boost to morale by taking a more attentive approach to his staff than his predecessors reportedly did.