Spinning the Vatican's new spin man

During one of my newspaper internships, I helped compile a list of data from houses of worship around the city for a church directory. You would not believe the number of bizarrely awful websites we came across, from the flashy purple and gold to the blogspot templates people still use.

Sure, religious leaders may not see a website as a place to invest a lot of money in, but you would think they would offer the who, what, where, when, why, how on the home page, or at least some where within the website. In many ways, churches face a PR problem.

The Vatican is no stranger to PR issues, and when you're translating thousands of years of doctrine from Italy to (many Amerocentric) journalists, you can see tensions pretty quickly. For one, I chuckled a little over the critique (right) over its website.

The Vatican made a move last week that might mitigate some of the issues in the future by appointing Fox correspondent Greg Burke as its senior communication adviser.

Lombardi confirmed the news after the AP broke the story, several days before the Holy See had planned to announce it officially.

Do people (average readers, not journalists) still care who broke a story? It's probably important to the AP being a wire service, but I find lines like this in stories a little weird, considering people generally forget the source of a story (Facebook? Twitter, maybe?).

The Vatican has been bedeviled by communications blunders ever since Benedict’s 2005 election, and is currently dealing with a scandal over Vatican documents that were leaked to Italian journalists. While the scandal is serious — Benedict himself convened a special meeting of cardinals Saturday to try to cope with it — the Vatican’s communications problems long predate it.

It seems odd to date PR blunders to Pope Benedict XVI's election, considering people might argue the Catholic church has had media problems for quite some time that didn't start on "election day." The Catholic church isn't like the American presidency, where you might say someone's administration did such and such. The office of the pope doesn't really translate in those kinds of media boxes, right?

Benedict’s now-infamous speech about Muslims and violence, his 2009 decision to rehabilitate a schismatic bishop who denied the Holocaust, and the Vatican’s response to the 2010 explosion of the sex abuse scandal are just a few of the blunders that have tarnished Benedict’s papacy.

I don't understand how the explosion of the sex abuse scandal can be dated to 2010. Yes, there were a lot of new reports that year, but doesn't the issue go way further back?

The new spokesperson is a member of Opus Dei, prompting this point of connection from the reporter:

Brown wrote “The Da Vinci Code,” the best-selling fictional account that portrayed Opus Dei — of which Bertone’s new communications adviser is a member — as being at the root of an international Catholic conspiracy.

Don't get me wrong: I read the book and saw the movie like everyone else, but is it still in cultural conversation? Not that I can tell. Is this a stretch to make a connection to the reader?

“I’m an old-fashioned Midwestern Catholic whose mother went to Mass every day,” Burke said. “Am I being hired because I’m in Opus Dei?” he asked. “It might come into play.” But he noted he was also in Opus when he was hired by Fox and Time magazine.

You know how we hate it when reporters vaguely mention someone goes to a "conservative Christian church" instead of just naming the church? I extend that analogy to letting this Midwestern mention slide without being more specific. I realize the media sees the world in terms of what's happening in New York, D.C., L.A. and then anything in between is sort of a blur, maybe Chicago, but that's about it.

On a larger note, though, I wish the piece would give us more specifics rather than interpretation of what the perception has been. Or, if reporters want to write about perception, use surveys to show how people's view of the Catholic Church has changed over time. Otherwise, this story alone feels a little inside baseball.

Image via Greg Kandra.

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