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the circular firing squad

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 06, 2009

As the last howls of outrage subside, and the damage-control squadrons stand down, Vatican officials have begun to assess what went wrong with the Pope's announcement of what was intended to be a move toward reconciliation within the Church, but became the Williamson Debacle. Some clerics are already prepared to offer their conclusions to a waiting media world.

The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, admitted to a public-relations disaster. He said that some Vatican offices should have done a better job keeping other offices informed. And regarding the failure to recognize that Bishop Williamson was radioactive, the Vatican spokesman said: "If someone should have known, it was Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos." 

Aha! There we have it: a pointed finger. His fault. And in an odd Time magazine report, Jeff Israely also identified Cardinal Castrillon as the main culprit.

But wait. A far more experienced and reliable American observer in Rome, John Allen, saw the mess as largely a failure of communications strategy. So who's the leading communications man at the Vatican? Er, that would be Father Lombardi. Sandro Magister, one of the most respected Vatican-watchers in Rome, conceded that Cardinal Castrillon did not cover himself with glory-- nor did Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops released the fateful document. But Magister also pointed to the press office: "The media release of the decision also seems to have been entirely negligent."

But again, wait. The Italian journalist was hunting for bigger game.  

it was not the fault of the Vatican press office and its director, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, but of the offices of the curia from which they receive their orders.

These offices of the curia converge in the secretariat of state.

So now is the Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, to blame? When he criticized the Pope's staff for bungling the matter, Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn did not name names. But clever Romans noticed that Cardinal Bertone is the head of that staff. 

In other words, the fingers are pointing in every direction. As is usual with organizational disasters, not many people are pointing at themselves. 

May I offer a word of advice, to any beleaguered Vatican official who might be ready to chip in with his own opinion? 

Don't.

This mess was the result of a communications plan that was badly conceived, badly designed, and badly executed. It won't be solved by ad hoc announcements that have all those same characteristics.

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