Pope Francis

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke and his deputy resign suddenly ‘over strategy differences’

  • Resignations came amid an overhaul of the Vatican’s communications operations and coincides with a troubled period in Pope Francis’ papacy
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 10:05pm

The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, and his deputy Paloma Garcia Ovejero resigned suddenly on Monday amid an overhaul of the Vatican’s communications operations that coincides with a troubled period in Pope Francis’ papacy.

A Vatican source said Burke and Ovejero wanted more autonomy from the Vatican department that oversees all communications, known as the Dicastery for Communications.

In a tweet, Burke said he and his deputy, Paloma Garcia Ovejero, had resigned effective January 1. Francis accepted the resignation Monday, the Vatican said in a statement.

“At this time of transition in Vatican communications, we think it’s best the Holy Father is completely free to assemble a new team,” Burke wrote.

He and Garcia both thanked the pope. “A stage is ending. Thank you for these two and a half years,” Garcia tweeted.

The source said it was believed to be the first time both posts had changed hands simultaneously, underscoring the differences of opinion.

Francis named a long-time member of the Vatican’s communications operations, Alessandro Gisotti, as an interim replacement.

The pope has recently overhauled the Vatican’s media operations for the second time by ousting the long-time editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and naming a new director of editorial content for all Vatican media, the Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.

The resignations clearly took the new team by surprise.

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The head of Vatican communications, Paolo Ruffini, said he had learned of the decision by Burke and Garcia and respected it. He praised their professionalism and said he had full confidence in Gisotti, who had been a long-time journalist with Vatican Radio and more recently had been head of social media for the Vatican.

“The year ahead is full of important appointments that will require maximum communications efforts,” Ruffini said in a statement.

Francis is holding a high-stakes summit on preventing clergy sex abuse in February and has trips planned to Panama, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bulgaria and Macedonia in the first half of the year, with rumoured trips to Madagascar and Japan in the second half.

Francis also has to deal with continued fallout from the clergy abuse scandal, in Chile, the US and elsewhere. The next year is likely to see the outcome of a canonical investigation into ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, accused of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians, as well as the results of a Vatican investigation into McCarrick’s rise through church ranks.

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Burke, while a Fox TV correspondent in Rome, was hired as a communications adviser for the Vatican’s secretariat of state in 2012. At the time, the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI had suffered a series of communications blunders and it was thought Burke could provide guidance.

In 2015, Burke was named deputy spokesman under Federico Lombardi, an Italian Jesuit.

When Lombardi retired in 2016, Burke became main spokesman and was joined by Garcia, the first woman to ever hold the position of deputy. Garcia had been Vatican correspondent for the Cadena Cope, the Spanish broadcaster.

Additional reporting by Reuters