Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

the Vatican's self-inflicted PR wounds

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 30, 2010

It’s bad enough that the mass media love to attack the Catholic Church. It only makes things worse when the Vatican’s own clumsy PR efforts cause self-inflicted wounds. Consider the latest case of ham-handed press strategy.

After media outlets reported that Italian civil authorities are investigating financial-corruption charges against the Congregation for Evangelization, the Vatican press office released a “Note” on that congregation, calling attention to its many good works and its complex financial responsibilities. The Note begins with this introduction:

Faced with news reports which, for some time now, have been circulating with regards the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly known as "De Propaganda Fide"), it has been deemed necessary to recall some objective facts to protect the reputation of this important body of the Holy See and the Catholic Church.

That wonderfully catchy opening indicated that the Note was a response (“it has been deemed necessary...”) to the recent stories. Yet the Note did not address those stories. At one point the Note seemed to be hinting that the Congregation might have mishandled some financial transactions, conceding that the office “may also be exposed to errors of assessment and to fluctuations in the international market.” But that was at close as it came.

Naturally, then, the reporters who took the statement seriously tried to discern some message between the lines. Today, those reporters drew a rebuke from the director of the Vatican press office for their “incorrect interpretations” of the Note. That reference to “errors” in the note was a “general observation,” he said, and should not have been interpreted as “referring to any particular administration.”

With respect to the former prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who is the focus of the reported investigation, the Vatican spokesman expressed “certainty that his correct conduct may lead to a complete and rapid clarification of the judicial proceedings.” 

To review:
  • Faced with unfavorable stories, the Vatican released a statement that did not address the substance of those stories.
  • A few reporters tried to guess how the opaque Vatican “Note” might apply to the stories. Their analysis was pronounced “incorrect.”
  • One short passage of the Note seemed possibly relevant to the press reports. The Vatican clarification assures us that it was not—that the entire statement was speaking in generalities. In other words, the statement was not relevant to the stories to which it was responding.
  • Nevertheless, without producing any evidence to exonerate the former Vatican official who is under suspicion, the press office refers to his “correct conduct”-- as if it had demonstrated the cardinal's innocence rather than ignoring the charges against him.
And you wonder why the Vatican gets bad press?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jun. 30, 2010 11:11 PM ET USA

    This is like a textbook bad example of poor writing. I can imagine it all marked in red pen with "What?" "Who?" "Which ones?" This reminds me of the politician's version of admitting personal evil as "mistakes were made." Statements like this are used as props, so they later can claim "that was already addressed in our earlier statement"