Yet another Vatican PR debacle

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 23, 2013

Whether you think The Interview was a coup or a disaster—or something in between—we should all be able to agree that the Vatican’s handling of the Pope’s blockbuster was another public-relations debacle.

Ironically, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications was meeting in Rome when the news broke. Greg Erlandson, the publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, who was at the meeting, observes that Church leaders had no warning about the interview. Secular media outlets received advance copies of the text under embargo. Bishops and their spokesmen didn’t. Then the story broke, and Erlandson reports:

And as quick as you can say "Gotcha," bishops and communications directors were suddenly fielding interview requests for a story they had not seen and were unprepared for.

The Jesuit journals that published the papal interview did a remarkable job of keeping the story quiet until the day it broke. That’s good journalism; they preserved their scoop. But if they didn’t give fair warning to the Vatican press office (which, remember, is directed by a Jesuit, Father Federico Lombardi), they deserve a scalding rebuke. If the press office did know what was coming, it’s inexcusable that other Church leaders weren’t briefed.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Dec. 04, 2017 10:58 AM ET USA

    Inspiring Saint. Distracted priest facing the faithful becomes a distraction for everyone present. On the other hand, a reverend and prayerful priest can inspire the congregation. The Tridentine Rite lightens much of that pressure for all participants. Either way, the priest has to be mindful that at the Eucharist he acts "In Persona Christi," whether he faces the people or not. His reverence at the Mass will come naturally if he prays regularly and lives according to his priestly state of life.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Dec. 03, 2017 8:51 AM ET USA

    Well said. People expect to be entertained even at Mass. I once heard a person making light of a homily because it was being partly read from prepared notes. The person thought the delivery suffered. Partly correct but I would rather have a well thought out homily presented rather than one that is scattered and ill-focused but presented with theatrical aplomb.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Dec. 02, 2017 2:17 PM ET USA

    Good point, well made.I never thought about it from this point of view.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Dec. 02, 2017 11:08 AM ET USA

    Tell me about it. Whenever I am serving as cantor for some of our lesser attended services, I usually perk up if I know we have visitors. Lord, have mercy!

  • Posted by: jpthegr82109 - Sep. 24, 2013 8:23 PM ET USA

    Maybe, Phil, this was just as the Pope intended. He may be doing some siting of the wheat from the chaff. He may want to see which prelates can think on their feet regarding such a basic message.

  • Posted by: oakes.spalding7384 - Sep. 24, 2013 5:32 PM ET USA

    That's a great point. (I hope I haven't used up my comment quota. Thanks for not publishing the angry one :) ). It's easy to forget that the journal America is supposed to be on the Church's side within the great Field Hospital, not playing gotcha games of the "see, he's really our guy" sort (IF they didn't give warning). If the secular press constantly and misleadingly views these things in terms of "lib. vs. conservative" politics, perhaps they can be a bit forgiven given this kind of thing.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 23, 2013 2:22 PM ET USA

    The Church is an ancient institution with a very consistent message and with a history of copious writings by the greatest thinkers of every age. There is something enduing and timeless in all this. Informal interviews can be problematic for Vicar(s) of Christ in these times. Perhaps this practice merits some revisiting. The Church is mighty important; credibility is so precious and so readily challenged.