Last 10 June, U.S. journalist Greg Burke decided he was going to turn his life around.
He accepted the offer of a position as media adviser to the Vatican Secretary of State.
This is a new role and was conceived in light of the Vatileak scandal, the crisis triggered by the leak of confidential documents belonging to Benedict XVI.
Burke said this was a “high risk” job.
The 52 year old Opus Dei member officially started his new role on Monday 2 July.
Up until now he has been working as a correspondent for Fox News, following a stint at Time magazine.
He has been living in Rome for over two decades and is well aware of the difficulties that exist within the Vatican.
Burke is also aware of the fact that no one can snap their fingers and change the world of the Roman Curia just like that. No one. Not even the Pope.
But like any journalist, he is also well aware that the Holy See is going through a terrible moment in terms of its image. It is being tormented by news leaks, poison pen letter writers and by a series of obvious internal management errors which have received negative attention in the press.
In an interview, Burke explained how he imagines his contribution, which he refers to as his “grain of sand”, to the vital change of course in apostolic communication.
How come you accepted the Vatican media adviser post? This definitely marks a point of no return.
“As a friend of mine told me: “This is just one of those choices which involve you placing yourself in God’s hands. I certainly thought about it a lot. At first my response was going to be “no”, because I feared it would be too great a responsibility and also because up until a week ago when I was made the offer, I had a wonderful job which I liked, was good at and gave me a future. My new job will be a “high risk” one, so to say, and is a huge change for me personally, even though it still involves working in the communication world. In the end I accepted: it is a risk, but it is worth running that risk…”
It is a big challenge…
“Yes, it is a challenge but we need to come out of our comfort zones now and again…”
What will your new job really be like in practice?
“When the Vatican explained to me what my role would be, the position which immediately sprung to mind was the White House Communications Director. In this case, the spokesman does all the public appearances and then there is another figure who works behind the scenes to come up with the strategies: how to formulate a given message, how to get it across, when and where. This is a long term position because when communication is centred exclusively around reactions, everything becomes a lot more difficult. Of course I am not expecting to walk in and change everything, I am quite well acquainted with the Vatican, I am not a mega expert but I know it well enough to know that no one turns up and changes everything, not even the Pope. The person in this position should be thought of as a young layman, not a bishop or a cardinal. I will have no power but I will have an office in the Secretariat of State and access to the decision-makers. I will try to contribute what I can with my professional experience; communicating what journalists are looking for, what they expect and what the reaction to a given statement will be…”
Why do you think you were chosen?
“Two main reasons: I have been living here for over twenty years and have a good deal of experience. I cannot say I am a practicing Catholic because then people will say I was chosen for being a member of the Opus Dei. I can assure you that neither Time magazine nor Fox News took me on because I was a member of the Opus Dei. I also think the Holy See was looking for someone who spoke English : Americans cannot resolve every single problem but they have a different and more international outlook.”
Will they listen to you?
“I hope they will at least a little. I believe we can take small steps in the right direction; I will be very glad if we manage to.”