Pope Francis punctuated his first ever visit to Vatican Radio with a pointed critique of the ongoing reform of communications.
“I have only one concern,” he said, although he acknowledged “there are many reasons to be concerned” about the Vatican’s communication efforts. “But it is one that I have very much to heart: How many people listen to the Radio? How many read L’Osservatore Romano?”
The Pope’s thinly veiled rebuke was the more startling coming as it did in a special live broadcast from the Pope’s own radio station, which this year is celebrating the 90th anniversary of its foundation.
The work of Vatican communications is “to reach the people,” he insisted. And so, “the question you must ask yourselves is: How many? How many people does it reach?”
He warned of the risk of a good organisation doing good work… but not achieving its ends, “like the mountain that gives birth to the mouse.”
Later, meeting with a representative group of Vatican journalists in the Sala Marconi on the ground floor of Vatican Radio headquarters, the Pope added a warning against the dangers of “functionalism,” which he called “the great enemy of working well.” He specifically criticised the multiplication of middle managers who serve no purpose, despite himself increasing the layers of bureaucracy in the new Dicastery. “Functionalism is lethal. It lulls an organisation to sleep and kills it,” he said. “Be careful not to fall into this.”
Instead, the Pope said told them, “Your work must be creative, always, and go beyond, beyond, beyond: creative!” This, he said, is what it means to be functional. “But if a work is too well ordered, in the end it ends up caged and does not help.”
For an organisation to be functional, rather than functionalistic, the Pope continued, “everyone must have freedom to function.” They have to have “the capacity to take risks and not go about asking for permission, permission, permission… this paralyses.”
He concluded his talk with his employees with a word of encouragement: “Go ahead and have courage!”
Pope Francis himself orchestrated a major realignment of the media department associated with the Vatican when he created the Secretariat (later renamed the Dicastery) for Communication by way of a motu proprio in June 2015. The first stage of the reform of Vatican communications incorporated the various organs of Vatican media – including not only the radio station and the daily newspaper, but also the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Internet Service, the Vatican Television Center (CTV), Vatican Typography, the Photograph Service, and the Vatican Publishing House, as well as the Pontifical Council for Social Communications – into a single entity.
The Pope’s reform has a troubled history, with the first prefect, Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò, forced to resign in 2018 after his misrepresentation of a letter from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
Monsignor Viganò was replaced by the highly respected journalist Paolo Ruffini, formerly with Italian state broadcaster RAI. Earlier this year, Ruffini gave an interview to L’Osservatore Romano – for which he is responsible as Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication – explaining the achievements of the reform, especially with regard to budget concerns (saving more than 16 million euros from 2015 to 2019) and reducing the number of staff (from some 640 people at the beginning of the reform to approximately 560 now).
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