Saturday, December 19, 2015

@CuriaBishop – Culminating "Culture" Shift, Social Media Nabs Vatican Hat

While this week before Christmas has seen two Stateside nods slip under the door, the Pope's saved the best present for last: at Roman Noon this Saturday, word came that Francis had appointed Msgr Paul Tighe, 57 (left) – the Dublin-bred #2 at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 2007 – to the new post of adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, elevating him to the episcopacy in the process as titular bishop of Drivasto.

For starters, the move comes as a surprise, arriving in the face of widely-held expectations (his own included) that – with the Vatican's communications entities now being consolidated into a single Secretariat led by three Italians and, for "balance," an Argentine – Tighe would be heading back to Ireland. Most of all, however, given the bishop-elect's longstanding role as the relentless architect behind the Holy See's sometimes turbulent embrace of and adaptation to a "new media" world, that he's sticking around instead (and with a hat, to boot) has the feeling of a watershed moment.

In any event, if you're trying to reform a culture – or advance a new one – the quietly warm, wiry and energetic nominee is the kind of guy you'd want to have around: after all, as Francis' designated coordinator of the blue-ribbon Patten Commission tasked with charting the reform of the Vatican's media operation, Tighe did the very un-Curial work of presiding over his own obsolescence....

Or so he hoped.

To briefly recap a long, eventful decade, it bears recalling how the first throes of digital media were mostly greeted in Vatican circles with ignorance at best, paranoia at worst – and even today, in at least few quarters, some things never change. In the main of the Curia, however, the premium on a fortress mentality carried the day until the chaotic fallout of the 2009 Williamson case, when the lessons learned from the debacle of B16's de-excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist prelate (whose residency in Argentina is instructive to more recent developments) included a fresh approach to the cyber-world.

As a result, after years of being sidelined in its pleas for a more digital-friendly Vatican, the PCCS suddenly found a new openness to a shift of strategy – to no shortage of displeasure from the Old Guard – with Tighe landing in the driver's seat. By 2011, the council scored a torrent of global attention with its move to hold the Vatican's first ever conference on social media during the beatification of Pope John Paul II – a Tighe idea whose widespread response stunned the organizers' very modest expectations – and by late 2012, five years after the attempt at a first platform (called Pope2You) was epically botched due to a lack of top-level interest and support, the Communications council was the conduit behind the smooth, very successful launches of the share-based portal and the Pope's own @Pontifex Twitter presence, both of them tapped into being by Benedict himself in moments that went viral and then some. Along the way, Tighe has taken to the road to hammer home the "Gospel of New Media" as a frequent speaker in church forums ranging from institutionally-hidebound officialdom to the digitally emergent new generation, sharing the stage with this scribe on more than a few occasions.

Alongside Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and two other bishops already on-hand at Culture, "adjunct secretary" is a freshly created post for the council, which isn't being collapsed into the new, sprawling Secretariat for Communications. Ergo, while the shape of the nominee's new duties remains to emerge, it stands to be expected or at least hoped that, as a bishop – and one with less of an administrative workload, to boot – Tighe's role as voice and presence for the church's digital reality will only increase.

In the meantime, to put it mildly, his many friends rejoice... and as ways go of marking 11 years since these pages began as a shot in the dark, indeed, how sweet it is.

SVILUPPO: Having had time to reflect on the move, given the simple reality (that is, oddity) of a fourth bishop being added to the masthead of a dicastery with all of 15 staff, something seems to say that, in due course, another shoe of some sort will drop....

Lest anyone forgot, Curia reform-in-piecemeal is the leitmotif of these days. If that's a stumbling block for some, well, the days when Jesus walked the earth would've been a right nightmare for you... starting with the circumstances under which He was designed to be born.

That said, as all his manifold appearances stack up, Bishop-elect Paul's latest major talk – a keynote to his home-crowd on the 40th anniversary of the Irish bishops' national communications office – serves as a fitting, even fiery, sum-up of the man and his mission: