10 January 2019, The Tablet

View from Rome

View from Rome

The New Year’s Eve resignations of Greg Burke, the director of the Holy See Press Office, and his deputy, Paloma Garcia Ovejero, caught many by surprise, particularly given that the first part of 2019 is laden with events at which every word of Pope Francis is going to be subject to close media scrutiny. Their departure comes just weeks before the Pope hosts a crucial summit on clerical sexual abuse – a gathering that the world’s major broadcasters will be covering – and as he prepares to make a historic trip to the United Arab Emirates.

There have been various explanations offered as to why Burke, 59, a former Fox News correspondent and the first American to hold the role, and his deputy stepped down so suddenly. Some argue that they had become frustrated at not having been given sufficient access to the Pope; others that Burke had felt constrained by the new Dicastery for Communications, to which he reported alongside the Secretariat of State, or that he had had fundamental disagreements with the Pope over how he should respond to revelations of sexual abuse and manage the crisis.

Some of these explanations are based on misunderstandings of Burke’s role. He was not the Pope’s “personal spokesman”, nor did Francis ever envision the press office as a sort of “corporate communications” department of the papacy. The 82-year-old Jesuit pope – who frequently makes off-the-cuff speeches and personally arranges his own interviews – is not someone who can be “managed” by a press officer. His vision of “a poor Church for the poor” doesn’t include a PR filter.

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