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Vatican spokesman: Pope’s PR controversies led to ‘some real hard thinking’

May 20, 2009

In an address May 18 at the Diocese of Westminster’s seminary, Vatican press office director Father Federico Lombardi analyzed the media reaction to “cases like Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg discourse, the bishop Williamson affair, or the controversy over Pope Benedict XVI’s statements regarding condoms and the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa.”

Father Lombardi-- who has come under fire for his handling of the Bishop Williamson affair and his editing of the Pontiff’s words on AIDS-- said:

Sensational reaction to each event came quickly, ranged broadly and penetrated deeply. Answers to these critiques were not lacking. They came not only from me through the Press Office of the Holy See, but also from voices well-disposed to the Church. These responses, however, were neither as numerous nor as “media-friendly” as the voices of the critics that occasioned them, and, though they were not overly slow in coming, they were nevertheless in a certain sense rather late, with respect to the surprise effect of the original shockwave.

Once the first wave of criticism had passed, though, people were able to do some real hard thinking – and they did. The subsequent reflections were serious, penetrating and well-argued; it took awhile for word of them to make its way through the communications channels and reach the public, but eventually the public did hear about and really benefit from these contributions to the discussion.

I am convinced that the question of Christian-Muslim relations has been addressed more frankly, more seriously and with greater depth after Regensburg than before; that the clamorous response to the declarations of Bishop Williamson not only allowed us to make the true positions of the Pope and the Church regarding the Holocaust to be more widely known and clearly understood, but also served to strengthen Catholic-Jewish relations and dialogue; that there is real hope that re-establishment of the conversation with the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre might lead to a deeper and more balanced reading of Vatican II in the direction of a hermeneutic of renewal in continuity with the Church’s Tradition; that the debate over condoms is leading to greater understanding and awareness of what truly effective HIV/AIDS prevention strategy is in Africa and elsewhere.

“I would like at this point to make something clear,” he continued. “I am not saying that everything we have done and are doing vis à vis Vatican communications is perfect. I do think, however, that in a world such as ours, we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that communication can always be carefully controlled, or that it can always be conducted smoothly and as a matter of course.”

 


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