Nothing new in latest documents, says Vatican


CATHOLIC CHURCH:THE VATICAN’S senior spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, last night played down any potentially damaging impact of the latest revelations from whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks concerning the Holy See.

Fr Lombardi argued that in the overall context of the vast body of documents released by WikiLeaks, those concerning the Vatican were of little significance.

“There’s nothing new, nothing that wasn’t abundantly well known. I don’t think that anyone has discovered America with these documents [about the Holy See].”

Aside from the Irish clerical sex abuse crisis, the WikiLeaks Vatican documents contain some fairly obvious observations about difficulties in Anglican-Catholic relations, about Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as well as criticism of the Vatican’s “failure to communicate”.

The observations about the Vatican from various US diplomats may not be new but they reflect what many outside observers perceive to be genuine and serious infrastructural problems within the Holy See.

While offering a summary of some of the PR disasters that have bedevilled Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate, diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes writes: “There are many causes for this communication gap: the challenge of governing a hierarchical yet decentralised organisation, leadership weaknesses at the top, and an undervaluing of (and ignorance about) 21st-century communications.

“These factors have led to muddled, reactive messaging that reduce the volume of the moral megaphone the Vatican uses to advance its objectives . . . Most of the top ranks in the Vatican – all men, generally in their 70s – do not understand modern media and new information technologies.”

Cardinal Bertone, described as a “yes man” who “speaks only Italian” and who lacks diplomatic experience, has also played down the negative comments, reportedly telling a gathering of diplomats last week: “Yes indeed, I am a yes man and proud of it, that colourful assessment reflects perfectly how I am on the same wavelength as the actions of the pope.”

On the question of Anglican-Catholic relations, the WikiLeaks documents highlight the all too obvious discomfort of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, when faced last November with the unilateral Vatican announcement of the creation of new ecclesiastical structures through which the Catholic Church would receive disaffected Anglicans.

Fr Lombardi said last night that the huge success of the pope’s recent visit to the UK would seem to prove that the tensions between the two churches, however serious, have not affected long-term good relations.

With regard to the Holy See itself, the WikiLeaks cables argue that it needs a new communications policy. Again this is hardly a discovery. For many years, senior Vatican observer John Allen, when asked about the Vatican’s communications policy, has tended to reply: “When they have one, I’ll tell you.”