Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lombardi: Portavoce No More

The papal homecoming tour is the first trip on which corraling the press pen falls to the new director of the Holy See Press Office, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Lombardi -- a former provincial of the Italian Jesuits who still serves as director of Vatican Radio -- talks about his concept of the job, contrasts with his predecessor Joaquin Navarro-Valls, and the many jobs he's juggling:
Father Lombardi describes himself as a communicator and facilitator, but says he won't be a papal "spokesman" because Pope Benedict XVI doesn't need an interpreter.

"I don't think my role is to explain the pope's thinking or explain the things that he already states in an extraordinarily clear and rich way," Father Lombardi said in early September....

On the bookshelf stood the empty photo frames that Navarro-Valls had once filled with pictures from trips around the world and encounters with global leaders. The TV, which Navarro-Valls usually had tuned to CNN, was off.

Like Pope John Paul II, Navarro-Valls was a former actor. He insisted that stories about his bullfighting talents were only legend, but he often maneuvered in toreador fashion as papal spokesman. Navarro-Valls interpreted the pope, disclosed papal quips and analyzed the significance of papal actions for reporters. He loved to spin.

Father Lombardi professed admiration for his predecessor's work, but journalists immediately noticed a difference in the air. One telltale sign was that the first Vatican communique issued under Father Lombardi did not mention his own name. Under Navarro-Valls, these statements, although drafted in the office of the Vatican secretary of state, were released as if they were direct declarations of the papal spokesman.

Father Lombardi said Pope Benedict did not give him precise instructions on how to run the press office, but his self-effacing style seems a perfect match with the pope's own low-key approach....

Because he remains director of Vatican Radio and of the Vatican television station, CTV, Father Lombardi's workday is an exercise in musical chairs. He begins his morning at Vatican Radio's headquarters, then spends several hours at the press office, heads to CTV in the early afternoon, and in the late afternoon returns to the radio, where he works until about 9 p.m.

He said he reads the Vatican's daily packet of press clippings in rapid fashion -- perhaps too rapidly, he added, saying he may have to devote more attention to that task. Given his schedule, he has little time for browsing the Internet during the day.

Father Lombardi well understands that journalistic and Vatican priorities are not always a perfect match. On a recent morning, for example, the pressing question from reporters was whether the pope's new red hat was made of felt or straw.
Nobody said it was easy....