Communication in the Curia: Aide Looks at Problems

Says Clear Explanations Are Sometimes Lacking

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 6, 2009 ( In the wake of the turmoil over the lifting of excommunication for four Lefebvrite bishops, a Vatican spokesman says much of the misunderstanding could have been avoided.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, spoke today with the French daily La Croix, acknowledging that sometimes there are communications problems in the Roman Curia.

He addressed this most recent case, wherein the excommunication of four Society of St. Pius X bishops was removed by a Jan. 21 decree of the Congregation for Bishops, working under papal mandate. The decree was made public by the Vatican three days later, on Jan. 24.

However, the lifting of the excommunication caused a stir largely because almost simultaneous to the release of the decree, a November interview with one of the prelates in question, Bishop Richard Williamson, aired on Swedish television. In the interview, the bishop claims that there is no historical evidence to confirm the gassing of 6 million Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Hence the lifting of the excommunication — an issue in the framework of the Holy Father’s intention to nourish Church unity — was criticized as an affront to Catholic-Jewish relations.

A note from the Vatican Secretariat of State this week affirmed that the Pope was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s position and reiterated once again the Pontiff’s own position of solidarity with the Jews.

According to Father Lombardi today, the decree lifting the excommunications «was negotiated at the last moment» and «some points were not made clear.»

«It was not the end of a process, but a stage; therefore, it didn’t give clear results,» he explained. «Nevertheless, the communiqué accompanying its publication left too many elements in doubt, giving room to different interpretations.»

The situation was further complicated, the spokesman observed, because the matter concerns negotiation with a party outside the Curia, and therefore, news of the document was available before its official release from the Vatican.

Organizational challenges

In any case, Father Lombardi acknowledged, «for the Church, the problem of communication is not easy.»

The question is asked: «Should everything be said and immediately,» the spokesman noted. And he reflected: «Sometimes it’s better not to speak. A very open communication, above all regarding a negotiation process that is so complex, can on occasion block or discredit [it].

«But in this concrete case, what has caused most harm is the concomitance between the issue of the excommunication and the publication of the negationist — and unjustifiable — position of Bishop [Richard] Williamson.

«Honestly, the delicate point is in knowing who knew the opinions of this man. When it is proposed to the Pope to lift the excommunication of four bishops — it’s not a matter of a big number, as if it were 150.

«Undoubtedly the people who have managed this issue were not aware of the gravity of Bishop Williamson’s positions. And it is true that the negotiations were carried out by Bishop [Bernard] Fellay,» superior-general of the Society.

Still, Father Lombardi contended, the positions of other bishops were not sufficiently taken into account. «What is sure is that the Pope wasn’t aware of it,» he said.

Role of the press

The Vatican spokesman expressed his belief that the role of the press in the turmoil was «neither better nor worse than on other occasions. It reflects our world.»

«Let’s be clear,» he said. «There are currents that oppose the Church, that consider it as a ‘liberty-destroyer.’ The message of the Church frequently goes against the current of the opinions of the majority, of which the press is naturally a spokesman.

«But reactions can also be positive. We could see it with the death of John Paul II. It’s enough to recall Benedict XVI’s trips to the United States, Australia and France where, notwithstanding that at the beginning, public opinion had not been won over at all, and which showed how the message can also be transmitted through the press.»

Reaching the choir

Father Lombardi also considered the difficulties Catholics themselves sometimes have in understanding Church documents, but he said that is the nature of the issue.

«Certain documents are designed for specialists in canon law, others for bishops, others for Catholics as a whole, others to all people,» he explained. «But today, independently of the nature of the document, they are found in the public square. And this gets to be somewhat difficult to manage.»

In the case of the decree on the excommunications, for example, the spokesman acknowledged that there was a lack of time after the negotiations to be able to foresee and explain to the bishops of the world. But this is not normally the case, the spokesman assured.

«On occasions,» he said, «a document is already in the hands of the local bishops even before we have it.»

«I think,» Father Lombardi continued, «that there is still a need to create a culture of communication in the heart of the Curia.» The spokesman said that currently each dicastery communicates autonomously without thinking «necessarily of passing by the press office, nor of offering an explanatory note when the information is complex.»

«If the explanations from the Secretariat of State note of Feb. 4 would have been given in the moment of the publication of the decree, we would have avoided various days of turmoil,» he contended. «When it’s about ‘hot’ topics, it’s better to prepare the explanations well.

«But, it’s impossible to avoid every difficulty. We have to be willing to run risks too. And we cannot think that it is possible to advance on a path of reconciliation without clearing up the ambiguities.»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation