Vatican Spokesman Defends Communication Record

Father Lombardi Says It’s Time to Turn the Page

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By Kris Dmytrenko

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2009 ( Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi is asking the media to broaden its perspective when diagnosing Church communications failings.

The director of the Vatican press office spoke with ZENIT in defense of the Holy See’s internal and external communication systems, which have been heavily criticized in the wake of recent controversies. Vatican commentators have variously described the lifting of the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops as a «meltdown» and a «disaster.»

«Speaking about this crisis in apocalyptic terms, to me, seems excessive,» judged Father Lombardi. «Last year was a year of communication success stories for the pontificate.» The spokesman recalled the 2008 apostolic voyages to the United States and Australia, which he called «splendid,» and he pointed to the «excellent communications results» from the synod of bishops and the papal visit to France.

«The tendency is to quickly forget all these positive experiences,» he continued. «It isn’t right and, unfortunately, it’s part of our world and part of our communications field.» In noting how a limited perspective «creates big waves,» Father Lombardi urged journalists to «look at the big picture and maintain objectivity.»

Father Lombardi acknowledged the strain on Vatican communications since the Jan. 21 broadcast of a Swedish television interview in which Lefebvrite Bishop Richard Williamson minimized the scale of the Holocaust.

«Clarifying the issues certainly hasn’t been easy,» acknowledged the spokesman, referring to the difference between Bishop Williamson’s anti-Semitic statements and the unauthorized episcopal ordination that caused the excommunication. «It certainly hasn’t been the most tranquil of times, especially for the Vatican press office. Therefore, I can’t deny that there have been problems.»


In an interview published Feb. 5 in La Croix, the Vatican spokesperson outlined some causes of the public confusion, such as a lack of explanatory notes accompanying statements of a complex nature. He further expressed his hope for the creation of a «communications culture» within the curia, in which dicasteries would coordinate with the press office.

Some commentators have reasoned that a lack of internal consultations is to blame for Benedict XVI not being alerted to Bishop Williamson’s views before the lifting of the excommunication.

Father Lombardi insisted to ZENIT, however, that internal communication is operated through protocols of the Vatican Secretariat of State, although these vary depending on each situation.

He said that «for every issue and every decision, there is a different itinerary» for how information gets to the public.

Still, the Jesuit acknowledged that «in the Vatican, as we are all progressing together, we can learn to do our jobs even better. I hope that will mean looking for appropriate language, adequately preparing in advance, anticipating what questions will be brought up and what answers we need to have ready when we release information.»

Now more than a month since the turmoil over the Bishop Williamson situation, Father Lombardi is encouraging Catholics to look ahead to the Pope’s upcoming trips to Africa and the Holy Land.

«Now that all of this has been clarified, we are calmly moving forward,» he concluded. «In service to the Pope, we are walking in the way of the Lord and the way of the Church in a spirit of ongoing trust.»

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Kris Dmytrenko is an associate producer of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Television Network, and is currently on assignment in Rome.

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