The L’Osservatore Romano has been the official daily paper of the Vatican for many years. Official Church documents get published in it but this newspaper has never won any awards for either openness or technical competence. Now, suddenly we see a change. The editor is Mr. Giovanni Maria Vian and the paper has a dramatically improved appearance. It offers an excellent daily synthesis of international news and has timely essays on history and theology that are truly first-rate. According to John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, he states that under Vian, “reading the paper’s lines has become just as worthwhile as reading between them.”
This is real progress and we can all be thankful. The Church has a bad record of not being forthright in its communication with the world around it. Maybe the improvements in L’Osservatore Romano will spread out into all areas of Vatican communication. This is a hopeful sign and a step in the right direction.
I have mentioned in this space before that Church leaders frequently have a destructive preoccupation with secrecy. In my opinion, the main reason for that is that they are fearful that the rank and file in the Church cannot handle scandal. That is really a rather silly evaluation because the people have been handling scandal since the time of the apostles on through to the present day. Scandals will always be among us but foolish efforts to cover them up always greatly magnify the evil that is present.
Again, my heartfelt congratulations to the new L’Osservatore Romano.
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Two weeks ago, a new book rolled off the presses in Italy reporting on the public relations train wrecks that have burdened the pontificate, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The authors are two Italian reporters who specialized in covering Vatican issues. They have good reputations and are respected. I don’t have a copy myself and even if I did, I don’t know Italian. However, I do have great respect for John Allen, the most respected American expert on Vatican affairs, who did a fine report on this book on the 27th of August. Allen tells us that:
“While the sexual abuse crisis has occasioned the most serious criticism of Benedict XVI, it’s hardly an isolated case. Tornielli and Rodari treat a long list of other controversies and PR debacles too, including:
- A September 2006 speech in Regensburg which triggered Muslim protest by appearing to link Muhammad with violence;
- The appointment, followed by the swift fall from grace, of a new Archbishop of Warsaw who turned out to have had an ambiguous relationship with the Soviet-era secret police;
- Reviving the old Latin Mass, including a controversial Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews;
- Lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one who has denied that the Nazis used gas chambers;
- Comments aboard the papal plane to Africa to the effect that condoms make the problem of AIDS worse;
- Criticism from the Catholic right of Benedict’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate;
- Open conflicts among cardinals, most notably Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, and Angelo Sodano of Italy, the Secretary of State under John Paul II;
- Ecumenical tensions related to the creation of new “ordinariates” to welcome traditionalist Anglican converts.
It’s a measure of how bad things have been that this is actually far from a complete list. The authors could have included other calamitous episodes, such as Benedict’s 2007 trip to Brazil, when he seemed to suggest that indigenous persons should be grateful to their European colonizers….”
These are difficult times for the Church and its relationship to the larger world and we need that our leaders be blessed with great skill and diplomacy as they work their way through dangerous minefields. Let’s pray for them.
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