Aphorismus #936

A tin ear at the top

5. (C) These public missteps have intensified scrutiny of the small group of decision-makers advising the Pope. Normally reserved Vatican commentators have directed withering criticism their way. George Weigel, editor of a conservative US-based Catholic monthly, recently wrote that „curial chaos, confusion, and incompetence“ had made clear „how dysfunctional the curia remains in terms of both crisis analysis and crisis management.
Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone — who is tasked with managing the Curia and is its highest ranking official after the Pope — has been a particular target. xxxxxxxxxxxx, said Cardinal Bertone had „distinguished himself by his absence“ during the Lefebrvist controversy, and that the curia had become „more disorganized than before“ under his leadership. Yet xxxxxxxxxxxxmay have understated the problem. At the height of the Lefebrvist scandal, Bertone referred publicly to the offending bishop by the wrong name, then denounced the media for „inventing“ a problem where there was none. Other critics note Bertone’s lack of diplomatic experience (he speaks only Italian, for example), and a personal style that elevates „pastoral“ work — with frequent foreign travel focusing on the spiritual needs of Catholics around the world — over foreign policy and management.
6. (C) More broadly, critics point to a lack of generational or geographical diversity in the Pope’s inner circle. Most of the top ranks of the Vatican — all men, generally in their seventies do not understand modern media and new information technologies. The blackberry-using Father Lombardi remains an anomaly in a culture in which many officials do not even have official email accounts. xxxxxxxxxxxx (strictly protect) laid even greater emphasis on the Italo-centric nature of the Pope’s closest advisors. Other than Archbishop James Harvey, an American and head of the Papal household, there is no one from an Anglophone country in the Pope’s inner circle. xxxxxxxxxxxx few had exposure to the American — or, indeed, global — rough and tumble of media communications. The Pope’s Italian advisors, xxxxxxxxxxxx, tend towards old-fashioned, inwardly focused communications written in „coded“ language that no-one outside their tight circles can decipher. (The Israeli Ambassador, for example, told CDA that he recently received a Vatican statement that was supposed to contain a positive message for Israel, but it was so veiled he missed it, even when told it was there.)
7. (C) There is also the question of who, if anyone, brings dissenting views to the Pope’s attention. As noted, Cardinal Bertone is considered a „yes man,“ and other Cardinals don’t hold much sway with the Pope — or lack the confidence to bring him bad news. And if bad news rarely filters out, leaks never spring. xxxxxxxxxxxx said that under Pope John Paul II leaks were much more common. While damaging, these leaks did allow time for critics of pending decisions to mobilize and present opposing views to the Pope in time. Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bertone run a much tighter ship, xxxxxxxxxxxx, but at the expense of squashing coordination or allow dissenting voices to be heard.

Not spin city

8. (C) As has become evident throughout the controversies, much of the Vatican hierarchy greatly undervalues external communication. Structurally, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Vatican Press Office are weak. The former applies the Church’s teachings to the field of communications and is not involved in shaping the Pope’s message. The latter has the writ, but not the influence.
9. (C) Father Lombardi, the spokesman, is not part of the Pope’s inner circle. He has little influence over major decisions, even when he knows about them beforehand. And the poor man is terribly overworked: Lombardi is simultaneously the head of the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Radio (which broadcasts in 45 languages), and the Vatican Television Center, literally moving from one office to the other over the course of the day. It’s a grueling schedule on good days, and debilitating during crises. Father Lombardi is the deliverer, rather than a shaper, of the message. In the wake of the Lefebrvist controversy, he openly said that the Vatican press office „didn’t control the communication.“ Without a comprehensive communication strategy in which he plays a central role, he is dependent on individual Church organs and leaders seeking his advice. It’s a hit or miss proposition.
10. (C) There is another cost to divorcing decision-making from public spin: the Church’s message is often unclear. xxxxxxxxxxxx candidly said that the Holy See rarely considered how best to explain dogmatic, ecclesiastical, moral or other decisions to a broader public. He emphasized that the content of the message should not/not be different — the Catholic Church would often take positions contrary to public opinion — but the Church hierarchy needed to think more about how to present positions.

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