A Fox News reporter has been chosen to polish the Vatican's image amid signs of a power shift in the upper echelons the Roman Catholic Church.
Greg Burke, a 52-year-old member of the conservative Opus Dei fellowship, is to take a strategic communication role in the Vatican’s most important government department, the secretariat of state.
He said: “I feel exactly the way I felt in Lebanon at the start of the 2006 war – nervous and excited at the same time, with a guarantee that it is going to be interesting. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but I know it’s going to be interesting.”
Burke, who is currently Rome correspondent for Fox TV, said his role would be different from that of Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See’s press office. The US journalist said he would be based in the secretariat of state and his remit would be more strategic. He said he had twice refused a similar offer from the Vatican, “because I had a really great job”.
The appointment followed a meeting between 85-year-old Pope Benedict and his cardinals on Saturday. The Vatican has been through a period of turmoil recently, with the sacking of the head of the Vatican bank and the arrest and imprisonment of Benedict’s butler, who is accused of leaking the pope’s confidential correspondence. After a broader meeting on Saturday morning, the pope consulted a select group of five cardinals who did not include his top adviser, the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The exclusion of the Vatican’s “prime minister” prompted speculation in Italy that Benedict had finally yielded to pressure for Bertone’s removal. Critics have long accused him of exacerbating divisions at the top of the Catholic church, the world’s biggest Christian denomination.
This is the second time the papacy has called on a professional journalist from Opus Dei. The late pope John Paul II’s press chief was a former Rome correspondent of the conservative Spanish daily ABC.
Burke’s appointment was the latest sign Benedict is turning to the predominantly lay fellowship for help with the crisis in the Vatican. The leaks are being investigated by a three-strong team of prelates, headed by an Opus Dei cardinal, Julián Herranz of Spain.
Burke, who grew up St Louis, Missouri, is a numerary member of the movement. Numeraries are unmarried, often live in Opus Dei communities and hand over much of their earnings to the fellowship.
The Vatican has been plagued by communications blunders since soon after Benedict’s election seven years ago. In an early speech, the pope appeared to endorse claims of an inherent link between Islam and violence, while in 2009 he rehabilitated a schismatic bishop apparently unaware that the ultra-conservative prelate was a Holocaust denier. – © Guardian News and Media 2012