The abrupt resignation of Greg Burke as director of the Holy See Press Office is one more disturbing sign that the Vatican is not up to the task of responding to the Catholic Church’s crisis over clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up.
Burke, a St. Louis native and an alumnus of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, brought an American way of doing business to a press office that not so long ago closed for the day at 1 o’clock p.m. He helped build what became an impressive presence for the church on social media, adapt the media operation to a twenty-four-hour news cycle, and create a positive image for a new pope. But the veteran newsman could not push the Vatican bureaucracy into responding quickly and forthrightly to developments in the clergy sexual-abuse scandal, and this clearly frustrated him through much of his tenure as the press office’s director.
In a New Year’s Eve tweet announcing that he and his deputy, the Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero, were resigning effective January 1, Burke exited with an expression of affection for Pope Francis but not much else to say other than that the job had been “fascinating.” In a subsequent tweet, he apparently looked to dispel the notion that he was leaving because of personnel changes above his level in the Vatican communication dicastery, writing, “Just so you know, we had been praying about this decision for months, and we’re very much at peace with it. Grazie!”
“Fascinating” is a gentlemanly usage to describe what it was like to be the public face for the Vatican bureaucracy’s agonizing, incomplete response to fast-breaking international news on the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse. As a former Rome correspondent for Time and Fox News, Burke knows as well as any media professional that it’s important to respond right away to such a damaging situation. Clearly, his hands were often tied.