Morale at the Secretariat for Communications is at an all time low

Mgr Dario ViganĂ² (Getty Images)

The appointment of Mgr Lucio Adrian Ruiz as the new Prefect of the Secretariat for Communications — the SpC in Vaticanese — appears to be a done deal, and the Vatican simply waiting for the right moment to make the announcement. There is still no official confirmation of Mgr Ruiz’s permanent appointment, and until there is, anything could happen. Nevertheless, SpC staff are treating the matter as a fait accompli.

The rumour mill around the Vatican has been extremely active since the start of this week, regarding the appointment of a successor to Mgr Dario Edoardo Viganò, who resigned as Prefect earlier this month in the wake of the so-called “Lettergate” scandal.

Mgr Viganò’s resignation was in effect a demotion, since the Holy Father created a new position at the Secretariat — Assessor to the dicastery —  specifically for him and named him to the position in the same letter by which the Pope accepted the monsignor’s resignation. Since that change, Mgr Ruiz has been acting as the head of the communications department.

Staff across the dozens of language sections producing content for Vatican Media are not exactly enthusiastic at the prospect of a Ruiz appointment. The sense one gets is that morale among the employees at Vatican News — which was already very low according to this reporter’s estimation when he left the Dicastery at the end of 2017 after a dozen years of service — has fallen markedly since word Mgr Ruiz might be tapped to take over permanently began to spread.

The reason for the low morale — a temperature reading inside the dicastery suggests despondency might not be too strong a word — is not opposition to reform, or even to this reform. “The people in the Secretariat are committed to bringing the message of the Gospel ‘to the ends of the earth’,” one staffer told the Catholic Herald on condition of anonymity. “We believe in our work, we believe in our mission, and we believe in the reform.” The problem is too many staffers have come to the conclusion that the implementation of the reform under current leadership has so far failed to live up to the high expectations Pope Francis has for it.

Meanwhile, there is another wrinkle to the story. The head of the CEM — that’s in essence the editorial board of the news division at SpC — Fr Bernd Hagenkord, SJ, has drawn criticism for claiming on his blog that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had agreed to the publication of portions of the letter he wrote in reply to Mgr Viganò. Fr Hagenkord later deleted the remark, though not before the German bishops picked it up and reported it.

The interest in Fr Hagenkord’s remark stems from the fact that, had Benedict XVI given his permission, the “Lettergate” story would have been very different, and quite possibly would not have been a story at all. Sources close to the situation with knowledge of the person say Fr Hagenkord made an honest mistake — a simple misstatement — duly corrected (on what was, after all, a blog). That’s fair enough.

Just how an internal reshuffle at the top of the dicastery is supposed to address the morale problem among the rank and file, or the broader issue of the reform’s trajectory, is not a matter, address of which higher authority in the Vatican can postpone indefinitely.