ROME – In a fairly obvious attempt to project openness to different voices, Pope Francis on Wednesday green-lighted the appointment of 13 new consultants to the Vatican’s Secretariat for communications, including both Jesuit Father James Martin of America magazine and Michael Warsaw of EWTN.
Those names will speak for themselves for many American Catholics, but to spell it out, Martin is widely seen as a progressive voice in Catholic affairs, including on LGBT issues, while EWTN is generally perceived as solidly conservative.
Both Martin and Warsaw will now work together as consultants of the Secretariat for Communications, a body created by Pope Francis in 2015 to manage and overhaul the Vatican’s different news and media outlets.
The body is headed by Italian Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò, who, seeking inspiration for a reform of the Vatican’s communications operations, has declared himself open to turning towards unlikely sources of inspiration such as Walt Disney.
Warsaw has been Chairman of the Board for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the Catholic network founded by Mother Angelica, since 2013, having been with the company since 1991.
Originally broadcasting from a garage in Alabama, EWTN is today the most powerful Catholic presence on cable television and in multiple other platforms. Though it hasn’t been free of criticism, it’s long received the support of the Vatican, receiving the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 2009.
Last year, Viganò was present during the opening of EWTN’s new Rome offices.
Martin is the editor-at-large of the Jesuit journal America and has a strong social media presence, with over 115,000 followers on Twitter and more than a half million followers on Facebook, where he often does live videos and shares reflections on the day’s news from a Catholic angle.
He’s written several books, including Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide and Seven Last Words.
His latest, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, to be published on June 13, was endorsed by Cardinals Joe Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, and Kevin Farrell, appointed by Pope Francis to run the Vatican’s Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life.
(A recent 10th anniversary edition of Martin’s popular book My Life With the Saints carries a foreword from Crux editor John L. Allen Jr.)
Among the pope’s other appointees, only one of them is a woman — Ann Carter, a communications strategist and former partner at the U.S.-based Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.
Six are priests, three of whom are currently deans in different Pontifical Universities in Rome: Father José María La Porte of the Opus Dei’ Santa Croce, Father Peter Gonsalves of the Salesian University and Father Jacquineau Azétsop of the Gregorian.
Also on the list are several communications experts, including Graham Ellis, vice-director of BBC Radio, and Michael Paul Unland, Executive Director of the Catholic Media Council.
The new consultants announced by the Vatican on Wednesday adds to the list of members announced last year, which included American Kim Daniels, former spokesperson for the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and several other lay people.
A number of bishops and cardinals were also named as members, including Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who in the 1990s represented the Holy See to the United Nations before being moved by St John Paul II to Dublin to tackle the Irish clerical sex abuse crisis, Myanmar Archbishop Charles Muang Bo, and Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti.