ROME— Seeking inspiration for a reform of the Vatican’s communications operations, Italian Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò says he and his team have turned to an unlikely source: Walt Disney.
“The central issue is that the Gospel and the magisterium of the Holy Father reach the hearts of people,” Viganò told reporters on Wednesday, while saying the new system will also have to pay attention to costs.
The former head of the Vatican’s TV service who was tapped by Pope Francis in June 2015 to become the first prefect of a new Secretariat for Communications warned, however, that not everyone involved in the over-haul is going to feel like they’re in a magic kingdom.
He said the “onion-like” process won’t be complete until 2018, and predicted it will be “tear-inducing” for some.
Explaining the new model further, he said that the idea is for every media outlet the Vatican has to discuss the day’s news in a coordinated fashion: Radio, TV, web, Twitter, with each one telling the story according to its own characteristics.
According to Viganò, the reform has to be both in structures and in the communication process.
Among Vatican Radio, the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s printing house, its television center, the press office and some smaller operations, there’re more than 650 people currently working full time in communications, making one of the Vatican’s largest operation in terms of personnel.
According to Viganò, there will be cuts both in the budget and in the structures, with the main goal of optimizing the process.
Though he didn’t say as much, it’s clear there’s a great deal of duplication of effort in the system that could be eliminated – for instance, at the moment both the newspaper and the radio do their own translations of papal speeches.
Vigano did point out some of the flaws of the previous management, saying it had an individualistic vision, with some of the department heads thinking in terms of, “better small but mine.”
This mentality, he said, “was a disaster.”
Speaking at a seminar for journalists and diocesan spokespersons organized by Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Viganò said the reform ought to produce a new communications system, “which responds to the current context,” such as the digital world, social media”, and the “multimedia, multicultural, and multilingual realities,” without forgetting the poor and needy.
The change in the scenery and the way people access information forces this reform, which he said won’t forget “the great tradition of Vatican Radio or of L’Osservatore Romano.”
Beyond improving its outreach, the reform also aims for the Vatican’s communication operation to become sustainable, with human resources as its key value.
“We’re responsible for money that is not personal, but of the Holy See, fruit of donations and offerings,” he added. “This implies a very high responsibility and for this reason, every Euro spent has to have an apostolic justification.”
At a time when the word “reform” seems to be applicable to every Vatican office, Viganò said that when it comes to reorganizing the departments under his command, it’s not about “coordinating or changing the name of the roles, but of [changing] the communications process and the media involved” so that it becomes “as efficient as possible, in accordance with the Church’s mission.”
The overhaul began several years ago, with commissions and study groups to find best practices and approaches when it comes to 21st century media. It was then presented to the group of nine cardinals that advices Francis, which in time led to the pope writing a motu proprio, meaning a legal document under his own authority, which included the creation of the Secretariat for Communications.
One of the key elements of the merger of the Vatican communications system, Vigano said, will be new production processes.
“Today, each media [outlet] develops its production in a vertical way … they have to be thought of transversally, as a container that can serve every channel.”
The first step in the merger will be uniting the television center and the radio, which Viganò defined as “easy,” while acknowledging the difficulty presented by the radio’s large editorial staff.
Next year, Viganò said, the newspaper, the Vatican’s editorial house, its photography service, and typography office will merge, with 2018 becoming a review year to see how the consolidation is working.