Rapid changes in technology and systems of communication require acute adaptation from the Church.
The digital world, described by the
last popes as full of both opportunities and dangers, is a reality one
Yet, it’s also full of uncertainties.
Reform of the communications structures of the Vatican is a response
to these changes.
On the subject of reform, Monsignor Dario Edoardo
Viganò recently gave an interview to O São Paulo of Brazil, at the headquarters of the Secretariat of Communications, of which he’s the prefect, on January 30.
Despite having been born in Rio de Janeiro, because his parents spent
ten years in Brazil, Viganò is Italian. After three years as the
director of the Vatican Television Center (CTV), he was named by Pope
Francis in 2015 to lead a profound overhaul of the Holy See’s means of
communications. He’s also a professor of communications and the author
of several books.
Viganò’s reform proposes to unify the various departments of communications for the pope: Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano,
CTV, the Vatican Press Office, as well as web sites and digital
applications. The monsignor explains that having a single center of
information (“content hub”) enables a better flow of news, a coordinated
multimedia presence and the simplification of administrative
In the following interview, Viganò speaks in detail of this reform.
He explains, for instance, how he wants to apply to the Vatican a famous
market model: Disney. Also, he analyzes the communications style of
Pope Francis, and Church communications in general.
With good humor, Viganò seeks to pursue a philosophy of leadership
based on the Gospel, including a rigorous and more efficient use of
money. He says that misuse of money by the Church is “robbing the poor.”
“You can’t use the money that people give to charity to cover your own costs,” he says.
Viganò demonstrates in his own strong managerial vocabulary that the
goal is “transforming costs into investments.” At the end of the day,
for him communication should be the result of really and truly being
“seduced by the Gospel.”
Domingues: What are the principal points of the reform of the communications systems of the Vatican that you’re leading?
Viganò: As it says at the beginning of the motu proprio
[by Pope Francis for the institution of the Secretariat for
Communications], the principal motive for the reform is the contemporary
context of communications. As the context changes, the communications
system necessarily must change.
All the media of the Vatican, which are rooted in a great, glorious
and antique tradition, have to be renewed in light of the exigencies of a
digital culture. However, this reform was born in the 1990s. Pope
Francis is carrying it forward, but we’ve been talking about this for
more than 20 years.
You speak about two criteria that orient your work …
The first is apostolic. Vatican media exist to communicate, to make
the evangelical messages and the teaching of the pope available to
people. This is the criterion, and we want to announce it. Certainly, we
have to do that taking account of our possibilities, which aren’t
The second criterion is a priority in the use of economic resources.
If on the one hand there’s the apostolic criterion, on the other there’s
an attitude of great prudence in the use of money, because it’s not
possible or thinkable to use the money people have given to charity or
the poor to cover our costs.
What are the most substantial changes in structures?
Words are important here: Structures diminish, but the services
remain. We’re moving towards the creation of a large and unified
“content hub,” something that’s already happening. It’s formed by the
professionals in various sectors we already have.
That means journalists of various outlets, such as Vatican Radio and also CTV and L’Osservatore Romano.
But I’m also thinking of technological support, for instance those who
do video editing. That allows us to process news in a multimedia
fashion, and to follow the flow of news from the beginning to the end.
However, there are still two segments reserved to the supervision of
the Secretariat of State: the official communications of the Vatican
Press Office, and the political articles of L’Osservatore Romano.
Local churches are watching your reform with careful attention. Are you taking the impact on local realities into consideration?
Certainly, I understand there’s great attention to what’s happening
in the Vatican for overhauling the communications system. I have to say,
however, that more than duplicating our model, local churches should be
encouraged to pursue a reform of their local media.
Today, not unifying [various departments of communications] means not
being able to offer a good service. In a digital context, it’s natural
that professionalism, human resources, means working together, and not
just in order to contain costs. Certainly, the money isn’t ours and has
to be spent well. Indeed, we have to transform those costs from expenses
However, it’s also important that this be an experience of service to
the Church. A diocese can put together radio, a newspaper, a weekly
journal, and eventually TV. This will reduce the bureaucratic and
administrative dimension, such as departments. It’s not that you have to
watch our reform in order to do the same. Watch it in order to say, if
they’re doing it, we can try to do it too.
You’ve talked about adopting the communications model of Disney, a very strong model on the market, well-known …
One that works.
One that works. However, the difference is that Disney is a corporation that exists for making money …
So what? A company that doesn’t make money is in trouble. The first
moral duty of a corporation is to make money. As it is to divide it, to
share. But, the first thing is making money.
The question is: how to apply this model to the Church, in the apostolic spirit of which you’ve spoken?
First of all, a model is a model. I spoke of the Disney model because
from the point of view of the creation of a “content hub,” it’s the one
I like the most, clearly with our own adjustments.
The problem would be if we didn’t have a model. The apostolic
criterion can’t justify ignorance with respect to managerial competence.
That has to be very clear. Good will and an apostolic criterion don’t
authorize anyone to waste money.
Choosing a model, even if it comes from a strongly commercial
environment, helps to build a vision of “work flow” to give maximum
value to competence and professionality, with the aim of making
communications efficient and containing costs. The point is to have a
model, and I’m not saying this is necessarily the best, but to me it is.
However, the model has to be adapted …
Of course, and I’m very committed to that.
In general, there’s a kind of self-congratulations in the Catholic
media: ‘In the end we have to proclaim the Gospel, even if we lose
money.’ No, that’s not true, in the most absolute way.
Institutional communications is one thing, which necessarily is an
investment in image.
Therefore it’s not a loss, it’s an investment. But
take Brazil as an example - I don’t believe Canção Nova’s goal
is just to tell the Church’s story. [A Brazilian Catholic TV and radio
service.] It’s to tell the Church’s story while making money.
It’s just not true that in order to tell a Catholic story, you
necessarily have to lose money.
That’s the self-justifying rhetoric of
those who don’t know how to do their work well. This has to be clear. If
we lose money, we shut down. Money is hard to earn, and if we don’t do
it that way, we’re robbing the poor.
What’s happening with Vatican Radio? Will it continue, not continue, or continue in a different way?
Let me ask you a question: When you say Vatican Radio, what are you talking about?
Of Vatican Radio as a transmission system via radio waves.
Lots of people ask me this question, but it’s because they don’t know
what the radio is today.
Radio via radio waves today is a marginal
aspect of Vatican Radio. It’s been a small thing since the Jubilee of
2000. The radio has been transformed into a series of web sites. Some
departments don’t offer any service via radio waves, and the great
majority only put out about 12 minutes a day for traditional
transmission. Others, like the Brazilian department, do more.
‘The structures diminish, but the services remain.’
The traditional radio service will remain channel 105 FM in Rome and
the surrounding area. Then there’s DAB [Digital Audio Broadcasting],
probably in terrestrial digital, national and with an app. The radio
will be in Italian, with breaking news also in other languages. That’s
it. Everything else will be the different linguistic departments of the
famous “content hub.”
What will they do? It depends on what they’re able to do, but in any
event it won’t be broadcast via radio waves, but as podcasts, which
brings tremendous advantages - not just in terms of costs, but also for
the bishops’ conferences. They can use these podcasts for local radio in
the best way they see fit.
That’s a big change.
Change always makes some people afraid. However, look at the
employment crisis in Europe and around the world, and let’s be aware of
what it means to have a salary these days, which isn’t insignificant
Second, in the world of communications, today’s terrific young
professionals have great technological skills. They go around with a
smart phone, they do video editing, they offer services. We want this
kind of people. We’ve got a great opportunity, in which professionals
confident in their skills get down to work.
How can the Church take advantage of the context of the new media to get its messages out?
Digital media allows everyone to be a digital storyteller, because
there are blogs. Here the problem is to understand the seriousness [of
what’s being posted.]
For example, decontextualization is a big problem.
We have to learn to discern well in the digital realm. It’s clear that
digital media offer occasions to meet people. The Church lives where
real men and women live, and therefore it’s ready to help from this
point of view.
Now, if the question is whether [digital media] can be an environment
of evangelization, I’d be a little cautious. Evangelization has
something to do with the Gospel, and, clearly, a personal encounter with
the Lord Jesus. Certainly [digital media] can help one to know more, to
open cultural doors, to undertake a path to understanding. However,
it’s not enough just to read in order to know everything.
Should Church communications be more pastoral, or go in the direction of public relations?
They’re different things. By public relations you mean institutional
communication, which is important. It’s important to the bottom line of a
diocese, to its foundation … that is, all those communications which
are important to present with transparency and clarity. Pastoral
communication is different, which is the element of involvement.
In Brazil I think a lot about prison ministry, with all the stories
of both lay workers and chaplains. That’s a beautiful experience I would
In Salvador, Bahia, I met people who despite being
delinquents have in their hearts a great desire for God’s forgiveness.
These are stories to tell.
How do you see the communications style of Pope Francis?
He has the capacity to make people hearing his words perceive the
truth of the story he’s telling. He’s one who doesn’t say a lot of
words, but his life speaks for him. It’s like Mother Teresa: even if you
met her and didn’t speak her language, just from the sound of her voice
you perceived the strength of the truth of a passionate life for the
Gospel and for the poor.
The second aspect is that Pope Francis never consigns anyone to the
role of being antagonistic to the Gospel. The Gospel is so richly
abundant that anyone who experiences anything human, and any man or
woman in any situation, can meet it. Certainly, after that, the meeting
anticipates a conversion. But anyone, not feeling excluded, feels caught
up in it.
Pope Francis says there’s a need to break the vicious cycle of ‘bad news.’ How is that possible?
When he says that, he doesn’t mean, ‘Tell a world of fairy tales.’
The world, Brazil, the daily newspapers, the trauma of the day is marked
by wounds and by evil. There’s the evil we find in nature that rebels,
with earthquakes, cataclysms, flood. There’s the evil that happens with
violence in the streets, day and night. Evil is out there.
However, the pope asks that while we continue to tell those stories,
demonstrating the reality of evil, that those evils don’t become such a
life companion that they anesthetize our consciences. It’s clear that we
have to recount what’s happening.
As part of that, we should tell the
story of the good that many men and women do, young and old. Yes,
there’s violence in São Paulo, but there are also people who stand with
persons who are violated, who welcome them and help them recover.
There’s so much good.
Do you have a message for people who work in Church communications, also in parishes and small communities?
The more you’re passionate about the Gospel of mercy, the more you’ll
feel the urgency of telling people about the beauty and the fascination
of an encounter with the Gospel.
Let yourself be seduced by the Gospel,
because if we allow ourselves to belong to God, we’ll become his feet,
his hands, his glance.