In the communication machinery of the communicator Francis it creaks – once again. There has been repeated speculation that some heads in the largest dicastery will soon be replaced. But made. So fast it probably does not go.
Paolo Ruffini, the only non-priest in the line of prefects otherwise mostly clothed in cardinal's purple, had on 16. January an audience with the Holy Father. This does not happen as often as with his colleagues Marc Ouellet (bishops) and Luis Ladaria (doctrine of the faith). But other heads of authorities are not invited more often officially to the pope. But the fact that Ruffini had an appointment this time caused murmurs. Why?
Correspondents sigh more often in view of the public relations in the Vatican. The last time this happened particularly loudly was at the end of October in light of the breakdown with the documentary "Francesco" by Russian-American director Yevgeny Afineyevsky. In it, the pontiff allegedly spoke out in favor of the legal recognition of homosexual unions – which in retrospect turned out to be a dishonest montage by the director from third-party material.
Stupidly only that the Vatican had announced the film and an award to the director before favorably. The Vatican communication was not allowed to express itself afterwards – on instruction from completely above, as it was said. Since then Ruffini was considered somehow ticked off. His predecessor Dario Vigano – no relation to the ex-nuntius of the same surname – had been shocked by manipulated photos of a letter from Benedict XVI. stumbled.
Popular mission in sports newspaper
The year 2021 then began with a media pope fireworks: on 2. January big interview with Italy's biggest sports newspaper "Gazzetta dello Sport. Then a cover story in "Vanity Fair", followed by a special in "Vogue". And on 10. January, Sunday evenings at prime time, an exclusive interview and documentary on Canale 5, the flagship of Italian private television. So far so good…
What was not so good was that these fireworks were only partially set off by Ruffini's communications office. Accompanying comments in the magazines of Vatican News editorial director Andrea Tornielli as well as Antonio Spadaro – "His Holiness' Voice" and editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine "Civilita Cattolica" – were, however, an indication that the responsible communication machinery was at least aware of these actions.
However, not with the "Gazzetta dello Sport". Vatican media did not even pick up the Pope's interview in the mass journal of sports-loving Italians. This was organized, it is said, by the Pope's favorite interviewer, a prison chaplain from Padua. Don Marco Pozza had already asked Francis about the Lord's Prayer, and later about the Hail Mary and the Creed – all in the style of a popular missionary, just as Francis himself likes to speak.
Dissatisfaction is mutual
For the TV interview with "Canale 5", finally, Francis is said to have invited himself to Santa Maria through intermediaries. Filmed there with the equipment of the transmitter, Francis critic Sandro Magister knows in its Blog "Settimo Cielo" to report. Otherwise, foreign journalists have to work with cameramen and equipment of the Vatican Television Center CTV – and get the material already "pre-sorted".
Experienced Mexican Vatican correspondent Valentina Alazraki, for example, who interviewed Francis for an hour in 2019, got her footage from Vatican Media without Francis' sentences on homosexual unions, but they appeared re-cut together in the documentary "Franceso". Director Afinejewski had been given free access to the archive by the communications dicastery.
Most recently, some speculated Ruffini and Tornielli were due. "At the top" one is dissatisfied with the fact that they do not sufficiently support the proclamation offensives of the pontiff. But this is probably too far. And if there is papal dissatisfaction with the communications authority, it is mutual.
For professional press and media work some air upwards
Francis' bad habit of deciding and organizing things bypassing his responsible staff is also causing sighs in the press room and Vatican media. Very happy to inform correspondents about contributions, greetings and statements by the pope, "if we knew about it in advance".
It is difficult to say whether the Pope's appointments, which have recently been announced more and more sparsely and at shorter notice, are due to the vagaries of the pandemic or to a new "strategy" of the Pope. It is true that Francis has shed the media shyness of Jorge Bergoglio. But for a professional press and media relations there is some room for improvement both in Santa Marta and in the Communications Dicastery and Secretariat of State, which decides a lot of things. One measure would be more frequent meetings between pope and communications chief.