Sunday, March 23, 2008

Times' Richard Owen on the Vatican's "Papal Makeover"

Vatican PR ensures rebranded Pope Benedict XVI will triumph in US -- at least that's the story according to Richard Owen for the Sunday Times. Owen's account paints the various personnel-changes and decisions of the Roman curia as simply a big exercise in public relations (as if that constitutes their sole motivation):

The papal makeover owes much to his team of aides. His backroom staff includes Giovanni Maria Vian, the first new editor of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, for 23 years. Vian was brought in last October to make the paper livelier, up to date, more “global” — and available online. He has opened it up to Protestant and Jewish writers, and has hired its first Muslim journalist.

Vian is part of a new team of progressive papal aides that also includes Mgr Gianfranco Ravasi, the new head of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The key hidden hand, however, is that of Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, since last June head of the Vatican's Department of Social Communications, which oversees its television and media operations.

Mgr Celli, whose amiable face hides one of the sharpest minds in the Vatican, seized at once on the dangers of the Church being seen as “fundamentalist”. He has at his side an equally sharp-minded Irish priest, Mgr Paul Tighe, brought in as No 2 from Dublin, where he handled PR for the archdiocese.

Their aim, Mgr Tighe says, is to “harness the potential of the media as a means of evangelisation”. Archbishop Celli says that many people in the world have a “deep nostalgia for God” that the Church can meet by being more open and embracing the internet and satellite television.

Mind you, this is the same newspaper (and reporter) that brought us the ridiculous claim that the Pope would "rehabilitate Martin Luther" at the next Ratzinger Sch├╝lerkreis at Castelgandolfo -- a claim dismissed as "groundless" by the Vatican shortly thereafter.

Sadly, shoddy journalism is increasingly to be expected when the subject matter is the Vatican, and the commentator is the the Times.

Take with a big grain of salt.