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Vatican Set to Overhaul Communications Offices

Vatican Set to Overhaul Communications Offices

The church reforms promised by Pope Francis continue their inexorable march forward, and now the Vatican will begin revamping its public relations operations.

In a briefing on September 17, Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican Press office announced that the first meeting of the Commission on Vatican Media will be held from September 22-24, at the Sancta Martha residence, within Vatican City.

Lombardi said that the meeting will be devoted to bringing commission members–several of whom are unfamiliar with the Vatican communications operations–up to speed on the situation, planning the work to be done over the coming months, and adopting a common work method.

Lombardi also noted that the commission itself will have to establish its own communications strategy for keeping the public informed, and so interviews would not be given prior to the meeting.

This latest reorganization follows on the now well-advanced reform of the Vatican Bank, as well as the ongoing reform of the Vatican’s administrative departments, or curia.

Last December the Vatican hired the US-based global consulting firm McKinsey & Company to analyze and propose a re-organization of the Vatican’s fragmented communications departments, including its newspaper, television, press office, and radio station to make them “more functional, efficient and modern.”

“This decision confirms Pope Francis’ desire to draw from the expertise and best practices of reputed agencies around the world to continue the curial reform now under way,” the Vatican said.

The commission has its work cut out for it. The schizophrenic structure of Vatican communications has long been a source of frustration and confusion both for insiders and those trying to work with it. Observers note both unnecessary duplication of resources and also occasionally mixed messages.

Currently, Vatican public relations is a many-headed hydra lacking a clear chain of command and crisp separation of powers. It is divided into the Holy See Press Office, the Vatican newspaper (L’Osservatore Romano), Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Center, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and the Vatican publishing house.

To further confuse things, in June 2012, the Vatican added a new position of senior communications adviser within the Secretariat of State, a post occupied by veteran American journalist Greg Burke.

McKinsey’s study of the situation will better equip the 8-member commission–comprising seven laypeople and one member of the clergy–to make recommendations to Pope Francis on more efficient, integrated PR.

The media advisory commission is chaired by Lord Christopher Patten, a former British politician and ex-chairman of the BBC Trust. It will also include Gregory Erlandson, the former head of the Catholic Press Association in the U.S. and Canada and a 30-year veteran of the Catholic press.

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