For the last 23 years, John Foley was the main communications official at the Vatican. His department coordinated media relations for Pope John Paul II's funeral and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. He also oversaw all film, television and photographic work at the Vatican. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York. In November, Pope Benedict XVI named him a cardinal. He came to Columbia, Mo., last week to talk to University of Missouri students about, among other things, religion and the media. On his way there, he stopped to talk to Tim Townsend, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's religion reporter. The whole interview is interesting.
Q: What are the differences between John Paul and Benedict in terms of how they worked with media?
Foley: John Paul was a more dramatic figure, and given to dramatic gestures, which the present Holy Father is not. But the present Holy Father is very open to the media. He's very kind, gentle, and he has given interviews before he has gone to specific countries. He did for the Polish media before he went to Poland. He did for the German media before he went to Cologne for World Youth Day. So, it would be nice if he'd do that for the American media, too, but I don't know. He doesn't feel as secure in English. He speaks English very well, but I guess he just lacks confidence. He's a professor, so he like to get things right.
Foley names the biggest issues that he thinks are confronting the American church today, including secularism and the difficulties of maintaining a Catholic school system. But this was the best part of the interview:
Q: When you received an alumni award from Columbia in 1985, what made you suggest a course in religion journalism, which the school now offers?
Foley: Unfortunately, many assignment editors confuse ignorance with objectivity, and they assign someone to cover religion who knows absolutely nothing about it, thinking that in that way they're being unbiased. I said, "If you did that in sports, imagine the riots in the street."
DING, DING, DING!