Until now, the general directors of Vatican Radio were always chosen by the Pope from among the members of the Society of Jesus. “The Voice of the Pope and the Church in dialogue with the World”, as it defines itself, has been entrusted to the Jesuits for 86 years, ever since it was created by Pius XI in 1931.
On Thursday, September 21, 2017, the new Secretariat for Communications (SPC) and the Society of Jesus signed a new convention on the participation of the Jesuits in the communications of the Holy See.
When Vatican Radio was incorporated into the SPC on January 1, 2017, the mandate entrusted to the Jesuits by the pope for the editorial direction of Vatican Radio became null. Monsignor Dario Vigano, prefect of the new Secretariat, explained in an interview with Vatican Radio the role of the Jesuits in the Holy See’s future “communications portal”: “a community of professionals – they are principally writers – who live their profession as a way of sanctification in the community of the editors, professionals, and technicians of the Secretariat for Communications”. In other words, the Society of Jesus is no longer in direct control of the editorial line and they will henceforth serve simply as writers.
As Nicolas Senèze remarks in the columns of La Croix, “this also means a substantial saving for the SPC; as the Jesuits, although fulfilling the functions of editors, were always paid at the lowest level.” Replacing them with professional journalists would have been very costly for the Vatican.
A Jesuit quoted by La Croix observes: “There is no more directing Vatican Radio or directing its programs, but the Jesuits remain the heads of the different language sections; how much longer will that last?”
Monsignor Vigano denies having sought to revolutionize the Holy See’s communications. He says he wished to modernize the organ by making “pertinence” a priority over “visibility”: “We are no longer producing for the radio, for TV, or for the portal; there is one single multimedia production. It is a big, global change in which the information production system is completely reworked. This also changes the role of the journalist, making it much more ‘multitasking’”, explained the new prefect for Communications.
In order to grasp the extent of this evolution, one must understand that in the era of cyber-technology, communications need a powerful media tool that incorporates the Internet. This “sixth continent”, as John Paul II named it, has received much attention from the Vatican. Benedict XVI was the first pope to have a Twitter account which was opened in December of 2012 and could send messages in all the major languages in the world. Pope Francis has turned it into a true means of communication, publishing daily messages.
The Vatican’s website in six different languages is not only an institution, but above all an instrument of its influence. Since the press throughout the world is considered to be more opposed to the words of the pope, the Internet is a way of short-circuiting it by releasing speeches and papal texts directly onto websites and social media.
The recent creation in 2015 of a “Secretariat for Communications” with Monsignor Dario Vigano at its head manifests the desire of the Holy See to be available to everyone, everywhere in the most effective way.
The question that remains is the exact objective of this policy: is it – as a Vatican Radio journalist lamented in the columns of La Croix on January 24, 2017 – “a brand mindset” that wishes to “‘sell’ the pope’s image”? Or is it to preach the truth of the Gospel as the apostles and their successors have transmitted it? The line between commercial techniques and the apostolate of the press is not so clear.