Francis creates secretariat to elevate, consolidate Vatican communications

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has consolidated and elevated the level of importance of the Vatican's different communications enterprises, creating a new high-level Secretariat for Communications tasked with carrying out work before undertaken by nine separate offices.

The new secretariat becomes only the third of its type at the highest levels of the Vatican bureaucracy, joining church departments that oversee foreign and internal relations and economic matters in importance.

Created with a papal letter known as a "motu proprio" announced in a press release Saturday, the new secretariat will consolidate the work of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Center, and five other separate entities.

Francis has named Msgr. Dario Viganò, director of the television center, to serve as prefect of the new secretariat. Msgr. Lucio Ruiz, the head of the Vatican Internet Service, will serve as secretary.

The papal letter creating the new office is very brief, outlining Francis' motives in three short paragraphs and then giving the scope of the new sew secretariat in four paragraph-long articles.

The letter, dated June 27, says the new office will begin functioning as of June 29.

"The current communication context, characterized by the presence and growth of digital media, by factors of convergence and interactivity, requires a rethinking of the information system of the Holy See and calls for a reorganization that ... proceeds decisively towards a unified integration and management," Francis writes.

The decision for the new office, the pontiff states, came after unanimous advice of his Council of Cardinals, the nine global prelates advising him on reform the Vatican bureaucracy.

For decades the only secretariat at the Vatican was the Secretariat of State, the powerful office that advises the pope both in running of the church and acts as his foreign ministry. At the advice of the cardinals' council, which includes Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Francis created a new Secretariat for the Economy in February 2014.

Saturday's letter does not specify exactly what will happen to leadership of the previously separate communications entities, but does say those offices will "continue their own activities" according to the indications of the new Secretariat.

The other Vatican offices affected by the consolidation: L'Osservatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper; Vatican Typography; the Photograph Service, and the Vatican Publishing House (Libreria Editrice Vaticana).

Francis had previously set up a papal commission to advise him on consolidating the Vatican media structures, naming Lord (Chris) Patten of Barnes, former chairman of the British Broadcasting Corp. Trust, to lead that work.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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