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Debate: Is L’Osservatore Romano undermining the Church?

Or is it a breath of fresh air in the fusty world of Vatican communications?

By on Friday, 10 December 2010

Giovanni Maria Vian, editor-in-chief of L'Osservatore Romano (Photo: CNS)

Giovanni Maria Vian, editor-in-chief of L'Osservatore Romano (Photo: CNS)

L’Osservatore Romano, the only newspaper based in the Vatican, faced strong criticism last month for its publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about condoms. It reproduced the most controversial extract of Light of the World without any commentary and before any other outlet – apparently breaking the embargo. It seemed to many to bear some responsibility for the media furore that followed.

Its editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian has defended his decision to publish the extract in an interview with Vatican reporter John Allen. He says the paper did not break the embargo – it pre-empted other outlets because its Sunday edition comes out on Saturday afternoon – and presented the remarks in a clear way that would not mislead readers:

Some people said we published the extracts without enough context, but in my opinion, if you read the parts we selected, they speak for themselves perfectly clearly. That’s also true, by the way, of the famous section on condoms.

Many commentators would argue, however, that if L’Osservatore Romano had clarified the comments, emphasised that they did not represent a shift in Church teaching, the media would not have got it so wrong.

Plus, this is hardly the first time that L’Osservatore has come under fire recently. Since Mr Vian took over as editor-in-chief in 2007, it has produced a steady stream of articles praising pop culture figures such as the Beatles, the Simpsons, and Michael Jackson. Critics say they are gushing and puerile. They can be embarrassing for the Vatican, since they are invariably interpreted as official Vatican policy (as in “Vatican forgives Beatles”). And they sow confusion about Church teaching.

On the other hand, the paper is livelier now and appeals to a much broader audience. It is, as John Allen puts it, a “must-read” for journalists, diplomats and Vatican officials.

So, is L’Osservatore undermining the Church? Or is it a breath of fresh air in the fusty world of Vatican communications?

  • fd

    L'Osservatore Romano is published in Italian. But the best Italian language publication,as far as the coverage of the Church is concerned, is clearly the Milan-based daily Avvenire, which is also very informative as far as current affairs, politcs and Italian and world news are concerned but, above all,it provides an excellent coverage of the Catholic Church. Its editorials are always very inspiring and thought-provoking.The vast majority of the articles are written by lay people even though some religious people do write on the paper as well. In the past, Italian translations of articles by George Weigel and Georg Ratzinger(the Pope's brother) have also been published by the paper. I would recommend it to anyone who can read Italian and want to be informed about the Church and Catholicism. And, as far as the Catholic Herald is concerned, Keep up your good Job! I think you are absolutely essential in Britain, together with the Protect the Pope website, since the main British main stream media are so disinformed and disinforming as far as the Catholic Church goes

  • Kenjiro Shoda

    This guy should be fired, and a traditional Catholic take his place. Likewise the Vatican public relations spokesman, the Jesuit Fr. Lombardo…also a radical libral.
    How these two people, who have views ttoally contrary to the good Pope Benedict, and who hahve tried to undermine him whenever possible, is a total mystery.
    They should both be fired before Christmas. Lombardi because he in past retirement age and a Jesuit, Vian because he is incompetant and a dissident liberal Catholic.

  • EditorCT

    You don't think maybe “the good Pope Benedict” shouldn't have said what he said about condoms?

    L'Osservatore Romano – like The Tablet and other such rags – should be closed down forthwith.

  • paulsays

    I hope the tablet gets shut down in all honesty. The Catholic Church should inherently be a left-wing organisation, just look at its teachings on social justice.

    This paper totally sucks up to the conservative party which is soon to put through highly immoral cuts. It also gave an article full of praise to Republican leader of the House of Representative, who wants cuts to social security, medical programs for the poor, voted against Obama's healthcare reforms, votes for increased military spending and supports the death penalty. (how 'pro-life' of him)

    I have also had posters who thought Regan was a good president in terms of domestic policy, and those who want a Catholic state in Britain.

    There is often a racist undertone against immigrants and an almost equal hatred of those with other ideas i.e. – Muslims, Atheists and Protestants.

    If the Catholic herald wants to support the poor and improve society, then what else can it be but left-wing, if it wants to be superficial, populist, reactionary and individualist and down-right nasty then it should keep to the right.

  • Albertodasca

    They are few and getting old, but they are trying again control of vatican media, in the name of…¿ poor Michael Jackson ?.

  • RJ

    Of course, not all of us think that he has said what he is accused of saying, but I suppose we don't want to reprise our former argument.

  • EditorCT

    Heartfelt sigh. If the Pope has not said what has been quoted from his interview, now available to check out in book form, then I rather think the Vatican apparatus would have told us so.

    Nope. I think the Pope said what he is quoted as saying.

    But, as a matter of interest, what do YOU think he said?

  • RJ

    I believe I made that very clear in our last encounter (qv). It's not about 'what he has said' but about how you and I interpret what he has said differently. We don't actually agree 'what he has said'. I am not the only one to think (e.g. Janet Smith, Father Fessio SJ, Professor Steven Long) that he has said the first step is the glimmer of a good intention, which does not legitimise the act chosen ('it's not a real or moral solution'). After the controversial statement, the question to ask is: 'in what respect is this a first step'? The Pope clarified that immediately within the text. If one gets too focussed on the controversial statement and then interprets it as condoning the use of condoms, then, of course, it appears mistaken.

  • EditorCT

    RJ

    I'm really not impressed with any of the people you name, not Janet Smith, not Father Fessio, not Professor Long but I wonder if any or all of them – Janet Smith, Father Fessio, Professor Steven Long – or yourself – AGREE with the Pope that for a prostitute to use a condom might be “a first step (to morality) the glimmer of a good intention” ?

    Because, as I am rather tired of saying, Catholic doctrine remains the same: it is NEVER allowed to do evil (use a condom) even for a (perceived) good intention. The Pope had absolutely no right to undermine that position.

    The very least we can say about this Pope on this subject, is that he has caused enormous scandal and huge confusion. Frankly, RJ, your closing remark is ridiculous. To argue that “we should not get too focussed on the controversial statement… etc” is crazy. Of COURSE we must focus on this outrageous departure from Catholic sexual morality.

    Please stop trying to justify this scandal. You are only heaping coals of fire on the head of the Pontiff who will have a rough time as it is, at his judgment trying to explain away this shocking aberration from Catholic teaching.

  • RJ

    I'm not sure why you are so dismissive.

    It is not right to do evil for a perceived good intention. I do not believe the Pope has contradicted that principle.

    The intention might be good. That is all that is being recognised. No, it is not enough to make an act good or right.

  • paulsays

    'It is not right to do evil for a perceived good intention.'
    Whatever the Church might say this is crazy, even as children we realize that we have to achieve the best ends sometimes we must do something wrong. It is about weighing up which is the best end outcome.

    Objective morality has good intentions, but if followed to the letter has idiotic consequences, just follow your logic in my example and then you might re-think this idea (with any hope)
    Thou shall not kill, a sin, an evil – but done for a good intention, for example liberation France from the Nazi occupation are you suggesting this was wrong?

  • paulsays

    'It is not right to do evil for a perceived good intention.'
    Whatever the Church might say this is crazy, even as children we realize that we have to achieve the best ends sometimes we must do something wrong. It is about weighing up which is the best end outcome.

    Objective morality has good intentions, but if followed to the letter has idiotic consequences, just follow your logic in my example and then you might re-think this idea (with any hope)
    Thou shall not kill, a sin, an evil – but done for a good intention, for example liberation France from the Nazi occupation are you suggesting this was wrong?

  • paulsays

    It is an idiotic doctrine that does more harm then good.
    It is about weighing up which is the best end outcome, and if some is evil is part of that then it is still the best. Following your doctrine we would be speaking German because we wouldn't be able to fight back as it would be a good intention to defend our country, but it would have involved killing – doing evil

  • paulsays

    edit not the tablet I mean the Herald