The Vatican’s communications prefect has resigned following a damaging row over his department’s selective release of a letter by Benedict XVI.
Mgr Dario Viganò, who was appointed in 2015 to oversee an overhaul of Holy See Communications, wrote to Pope Francis saying that “recent controversies” were “destabilising" the reform work.
In his letter of reply, the Pope said he accepted the resignation but “not without some struggle” and has asked Mgr Viganò to stay on as an “assessor” to the new communications prefect, whose name is yet to be announced.
The Vatican-affiliated news site, Il Sismografo, is predicting that Bishop Paul Tighe will succeed Mgr Viganò as communications prefect with an announcement as early as next Tuesday. Bishop Tighe was secretary to the review of Vatican communications led by Lord Patten, former Chairman of the BBC Trust, and is respected as a thoughtful communicator with an excellent understanding of digital culture. The Irish bishop is currently secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and before that held the same role at the Vatican department for social communications.
Mgr Viganò's resignation comes after a week where the Vatican admitted to blurring the photograph of a letter written by Benedict XVI and withholding another section although later claimed there was “no intent” to censor.
A priest from Milan and a film expert, Mgr Viganò was previously director of the Vatican’s Television Centre where he oversaw the coverage of Benedict XVI’s dramatic departure from the Vatican by helicopter.
But the botched release of Benedict’s letter, released on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s election, led to a damaging loss in credibility for the department and was widely considered a spectacular public relations own goal.
Mgr Viganò read out a letter from Benedict XVI at a 12 March launch of an 11 volume work of theology dedicated to Francis. In the letter Benedict dismissed as “foolish prejudice” the idea that Francis is practically focussed and without theological and philosophical formation while he is a “theorist of theology” out of touch with reality of Christian life. The Pope Emeritus also said there was an “interior continuity” between him and Francis.
The Vatican communications chief did not read out a part where Benedict declined to offer an assessment of the new volumes along with "surprise" over the inclusion of German theologian Peter Hünermann as one of the contributors. A photo of the letter also blurred out lines where the retired Pope said he could not provide a detailed theological assessment of the works, nor was that included in the press release.
In his resignation letter, released today, Mgr Viganò asked the Pope to “take me aside” in order to prevent any “delay, damage or block” to the ongoing reforms.
Citing the Pope’s comments that reform of the Roman Curia starts with personal conversion, the priest said he is taking to hear Jesus’ words when meeting Nicodemus in the Gospel of John about the need to be “born again”.
Reform of the Vatican communications started early on during Francis’ pontificate after Lord Patten, former Chairman of the BBC Trust, conducted a detailed review which was then submitted to the Pope and his cabinet of cardinal advisers.
On his recommendation and with the help of the consulting firm McKinsey and Co, the Vatican has set up a single online content hub that brought Vatican Radio and television broadcasts into a single channel.
Pic: Pope Francis greets Mgr Dario Vigano, director of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications, during a meeting with members of the secretariat at the Vatican May 4. Addressing the group responsible for reforming Vatican communications, the pope said that courageous teamwork is needed to best respond to new challenges. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)