Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Canada's Salt and Light Media Foundation, listens to a speaker Nov. 10 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Rosica’s role unchanged as Vatican moves toward lay-run press office

  • July 12, 2016

The advent of a new, professional, lay-led press office at the Vatican won’t sideline Canada’s Fr. Thomas Rosica, who has acted as a volunteer English-language attaché to the Holy See press office since Pope Benedict resigned.

Pope Francis named two experienced journalists, including its first female vice director, to lead the Vatican press office on July 11.

American Greg Burke succeeds Italian Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who retires after 10 years as head of the Vatican press office. Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero moves into Burke's spot as vice director, making her the first female to hold that position.

Rosica will continue to distribute English-language press releases and take questions from the English-speaking media, as he has done for several years. He will be in Rome Sept. 4 to work with the English-language press during the canonization of Mother Teresa.

The Basilian priest’s volunteer role at the Vatican began when English-language journalists were frustrated at an Italian-only press conference following Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation in February 2013. The Salt and Light Media Foundation CEO was in Rome at the time and stepped in to take reporters’ questions. 

Whenever large numbers of media gather for a Vatican story, Rosica is provided with a desk and given specific tasks as the Vatican deals with sometimes thousands of reporters. 

Since Benedict’s resignation, at the request of Lombardi, Rosica has maintained an e-mail list of about 1,600 English-language journalists to whom he sends a daily e-mail summarizing current developments at the Vatican. He takes questions from journalists, many of whom do not cover religion full time, and paves the way for reporters working on Church-related projects.

He has also played a role in Rome at the two Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015. He did English-language press relations at the release of Pope Francis major encyclical Laudato Si’, and again for the release of the Pope’s exhortation following the family synods, Amoris Laetitia

The Vatican’s working language is Italian and English-language press relations have not been a priority in the past. Rosica told The Catholic Register a number of bishops have told him he paved the way to better relations between the Vatican and the heavily English international press.

There have been major changes in the Vatican communications machinery during Pope Francis’ time, including shutting down the old Vatican Information Service about a year ago. More change is coming, Rosica said, including a couple more people to be hired in the press office. Rosica could not reveal what other changes might be coming.

Burke served as special communications advisor in the Vatican's Secretariat of State starting in 2012 before he was named by Pope Francis as vice director of the press office in December 2015. Burke spent 24 of his past 28 years based in Rome as a journalist with the National Catholic Register, Time magazine and the Fox News network. 

Burke told Catholic News Service that he was excited for his new role as director of the press office. 

"I'm a little bit awed by it and just very thankful for the trust of the Pope," he said. 

He also noted that in choosing an American and a Spanish journalist, the Pope has made "an important sign of internationalization" in order to reach out to Catholics across the globe. 

Garcia Ovejero, who studied journalism in Spain and earned a master’s degree in management strategies and communications at New York University, worked as Italy and Vatican correspondent for Spanish radio broadcaster Cadena COPE. 

The Spanish journalist downplayed her role as the first female vice director of the press office, saying that the first women who served the Church "were the ones who found the empty tomb and proclaimed the Resurrection to the apostles."

"I am in no way the first woman. The first woman above all in the Church, in the Vatican and in the press office is the Virgin Mary," she told CNS. 

The Vatican announced that Garcia Ovejero, a native of Madrid, and Burke will begin their respective roles Aug. 1.

(With files from Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service.)

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