(Rome) The surprising change at the head of the Osservatore Romano is confirmed as the first "official act" of the papal house Vaticanista, Andrea Tornielli in his new post in the Communications Dicastry. However, the Cardinal Secretary of State should not have known about it and be "very irritated" about it.
According to the daily La Verità, the former editor-in-chief of the Pope's daily newspaper, Giovanni Maria Vian, was dismissed by joint intervention of Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of the Roman Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, and Andrea Tornielli, Pope Francis's house Vaticanista. Both belong to the Pope's closest circle of acquaintances.
Tornielli had been called to the Holy See by Francis on 18 December. Since that time, he has directed all Vatican media as a publisher with central alignment and coordination powers.
On the one hand, Tornielli's appointment represents a crucial step in Pope Francis' media reform. The Italian journalist has had privileged access to Francis. Now he exercises his alignment and control function directly. The Vatican media are thus available to Francis directly and in close association with Santa Marta.
The intervention triggered within the papal court, however, also has "some abdominal pain". The State Secretariat and the Secretary of State was evidently not informed of the dismissal. Cardinal Pietro Parolin was "very irritated" about it.
The appointment of Tornielli is seen by the media as a "reckoning" within Pope Francis' closest but heterogeneous circle of intimates. Winners of the power struggle are Tornielli and Spadaro. The Jesuit is considered the most influential adviser to the Pope in this area. In 2017, an agreement was signed with the Jesuit Order to secure its influence over the Vatican media.
The loser is first and foremost Giovanni Maria Vian. He has since been replaced by Andrea Monda. Monda is close to Spadaro. He is the President, Spadaro the founder of the Roman cultural project with the unusual name Bomba carta (letter bomb).
However, one of the losers is the Vatican State Secretariat, which was overrun by the events. By the evening before Vian's release, Cardinal Secretary Parolin is said to have known "absolutely nothing" about it. Pope Francis had neither involved him in the decision-making process nor informed him in advance, although in the past the Secretariat of State had a not inconsiderable influence on the Vatican newspaper and on the Vatican Press Office.
According to Vatican sources, Vian's work as editor-in-chief under Francis had never been contested. The historian and philologist was still employed under Pope Benedict XVI. Under Francis he opened the pages of the Osservatore Romano, however, to readily heterodox, feminist and heretical voices and positions.
The daily La Verità sees "small orthodox methods" at work that are part of an "internal power struggle between many roosters in the same chicken coop".
As far as reconstructable, it was Pope Francis himself who wanted to replace Vian, in order to make the more than 170 year old Osservatore Romano stronger as a house medium in duty for the direct support of the line of Pope Francis. However, the decisive step came from Spadaro and Tornielli.
Had it gone to Francis, Spadaro should have taken over the job of chief editor, but this was refused. On his recommendation, however, the close collaborator, Andrea Monda was meanwhile used.
The internal power struggle for influence and closeness to the pope
More than four years after media reform began in 2014, the operation seems complete. Pope Francis was also not deterred by unexpected and unwanted setbacks, such as the tragicomic overthrow of his first communications chief, Dario Edoardo Viganò. At the beginning of the year he had manipulated a letter from Pope Benedict XVI. to give Pope Francis a particularly flattering gift for his five-year jubilee on the throne. Viganò, not to be confused with the former nuncio in the United States, fell easily. Pope Francis caught him again immediately and set up a new office ad personam for him in the same communication dicastery.
There is not only a tough fight in the Catholic Church between faithful and modernist circles in progress, but also a massive struggle within the very heterogeneous entourage of Pope Francis. Tornielli and Spadaro seem to have taken control of all Vatican media. The method used to push the last rival out of the field is not endorsed by all the pope's confidants. At least not by those whose influence was curtailed. Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin belongs to the media. The new mighty power that unites Tornielli in his hands has also weakened the position of the Vatican press service and Vatican spokesman Greg Burke.
Tornielli was so far only an informal papal spokesman. Now he is officially taking over this function. That will not be without consequences in Tornielli's activism. Francis used Paolo Ruffini as Viganò's successor after he had to accept more reluctant than willing Viganò's resignation. Ruffini, however, is more of a placeholder. Real influence is not attributed to him. The role that Dario Edoardo Viganò will play in the media in the future remains to be seen. At least he will not be able to oppose Tornielli.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
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