Vatican Media Communications Under Pressure

September 08, 2021
Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication

Nothing is right between Pope Francis and the Vatican media, which seem to have lost the exclusivity to report what Peter's successor is saying. The latest hitch is the interview the Argentine pontiff gave to a Spanish-speaking radio station.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021: Spanish-speaking Catholic radio COPE broadcast an exclusive interview with Pope Francis carried out the previous week at the St. Martha’s House. A few days earlier, COPE even released some of the responses from Peter's successor.

It is only after the broadcast has aired that Vatican News, the official news site of the Holy See, will publish the interview transcript. This is another blow to the Vatican media who find themselves, a once again, relegated to the role of simply relaying an exclusivity which is theirs by right.

The tension is not new: on May 24, the Argentine pontiff, on an official visit to Palazzo Pio, the holy of holies of papal communication, compared the Vatican media’s “beautiful organization” to a “mountain giving birth to a mouse.” Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication, still a loyal supporter of the Pope, threatens to resign.

It must be said that the use of parallel channels has become second nature to Pope Francis, who does not intend to rely on his own services to disseminate his word.

This makes the function of communicator quite sporting, in every sense of the word: thus on January 2, an employee of Vatican News was amazed to see his manager running to the nearest newsagent, in order to buy a copy of the Gazzetta dello Sport, the Roman equivalent of L'Equipe, [e.g., Sports Illustrated] to which Pope Francis had just granted an exclusive interview.

But this derivative communication has its limits, because by broadcasting “without a net,” that is, without being verified by the competent services, the Secretary of State in particular, the pope’s words risk falling at least into approximation, or worse, into error.

This is what happened during the interview broadcast by COPE on September 1. Asked about the Afghan crisis, the Holy Father recalls remarks he attributes to Angela Merkel:

“It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of imposing one's own values ​​on others, as well as attempts to build democracy in other countries on the basis of imported models, without taking into account historical notions, ethnic and religious, and absolutely ignoring the traditions of other nations.”

Pope Francis sees it as proof of the “great wisdom” of the German Chancellor. Alas! A few hours later, the Associated Press, sensing the papal error, warned that the remarks were not those of Angela Merkel, but of Vladimir Putin, the Russian head of state, who made them on August 20.

One can imagine the smile of the master of the Kremlin receiving the involuntary Imprimatur of the Roman Pontiff.