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June 25th, 2012
04:26 PM ET

Reporter leaves Fox News to join Vatican staff

By Eric Marrapodi and Dugald McConnell, CNN

(CNN) – Correspondent Greg Burke has left Fox News  to join the Vatican as a senior adviser of communications to the secretariat of state at the Holy See, the Vatican announced late Sunday.

"This new figure will have the task of dealing with communications issues in the work of the secretariat of state and will oversee relations with the Holy See Press Office and other media institutions of the Holy See," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Burke has been based in Rome as a journalist for more than two decades, first as a correspondent for the National Catholic Register, then as a stringer and correspondent for Time magazine before he moved to Fox News in 2001.

"While I don’t think I'll have power, I think I'll be at the table with people who do," Burke said from Rome on Monday.

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Burke's office will not be in the press office at the Holy See.  He will be based on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace just below Secretariat of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Italian cleric who overseas the day-to-day operation of the Vatican.

Burke equated the newly created job to being the director of communications at the White House, noting he won't be out front delivering the message for the church. "This is more the strategy, the shape-the-message, formulate-the-message, and then try to figure out how best to transmit it."

News of his departure trickled out on Saturday when The Associated Press released a report about Burke's move.

By Monday morning, Fox News had scrubbed Burke's reporter profile from their website and by Monday afternoon, a member of their public relations team told CNN that Burke was "no longer a Fox employee."

When he spoke to CNN, Burke had been under the assumption he was still a Fox employee until Friday.

"It's really the best move the Vatican has made in a long time," long-time Vatican reporter David Gibson of the Religion News Service said of Burke's hiring. "But whether it's going to be enough, I don't know - they've got a lot of problems internally with their communications strategy and also presentation."

"You don't get any closer than being in the Apostolic Palace on the third floor right under the secretariat of state," Gibson said. "But again, is anybody going to be listening to them? That's also the other part of this equation."

The Vatican has been in crisis mode for weeks after an embarrassing series of leaks dubbed "Vati-leaks," in which sensitive documents were published in a book by an Italian journalist.

In April, a "pontifical mandate" was given to uncover the source of hundreds of personal letters and confidential documents that leaked to Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist and author of "Sua Santita," a book that translates to "His Holiness" and included the documents, some of which were thought to have come off the pope's desk.

Paolo Gabriele, the pope's butler, was arrested in May, accused of  leaking documents.

While the scandal received only mild interest in the United States, it captivated Italy for weeks.

"I think the fact that they brought me in is a realization that everything is not perfect," Burke said. "If you go over the past few years, the pope himself has said, ' we made some mistakes.' "

Burke said in the course of a week, he was approached about the job twice.

Burke, 52, is a lifelong Catholic from St. Louis.  One of six children, he grew up walking to Mass and attended Catholic school from elementary through high school. He said he was convinced his father bought the house he grew up in because of its proximity to the local parish.

Between high school and heading off to college at Columbia University in Manhattan, Burke became a numerary in Opus Dei.

It meant committing to a life of singleness and celibacy.  He formalized his commitment at  23, something he said was "like getting married."

Opus Dei is a religious order founded in 1928 and made up of roughly 90,000 members, the vast majority of whom are lay people. They say their "mission is to spread the ideal of holiness in the middle of the world," according to their website.

Some members of Opus Dei practice self-flagellation, a practice of beating or whipping oneself to grow closer to Jesus.

"This voluntarily accepted discomfort is a way of joining oneself to Jesus Christ and the sufferings he voluntarily accepted in order to redeem us from sin," the Rev. Michael Barrett, a priest of the Catholic Opus Dei, wrote on the group's website in 2006. Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa both used the spiritual practice.

Burke says self-flagellation is part of his personal practice as well, saying "I try to."

For Burke, being a member of Opus Dei is a key component of his spirituality, he said.

"It's a big part of who I am," he said.

His membership in Opus Dei will be beneficial to Burke when he begins next week at the Vatican, Gibson said.

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"Opus Dei is very trusted in the Vatican and in this pontificate," Gibson said, adding that Pope John Paul II was also a member. "They're not the shadowy, villainous organization that Dan Brown depicted in his novels like 'Angels and Demons' and 'The Da Vinci Code.' They know what they're doing."

John Allen, CNN Vatican analyst, says that by hiring Burke, the Vatican is "trying to reclaim some of that John Paul II magic."

"I think collectively the Vatican feels it has taken a drubbing in the court of public opinion, and it's looking for a media-savvy expert that can turn the ship around," Allen said.

"I would say the Vatican is in a better position today than it was yesterday with respect to its media strategy with the hiring of Greg Burke, but ultimately how much change he's going to be able to effect remains to be seen."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • Vatican

soundoff (248 Responses)
  1. BADGUY

    Google Opus Dei, if you haven't done so already (in anticipation of Rick Santorum running for President). It is FAR right wing and run like a cult! The founder, Josemaria Escriva was a Spanish Fascist who sided with Franco during the Spanish Civil War. He admired Adolf Hitler! Prime tenets: Cult like control over members. Belittling of women. Attempting to lure key government functionaries into its fold. (TWO of the SIX supreme court justices attend it's church in Great Falls, Virginia). It is WORSE than what Dan Brown portrayed it in his book..and MUCH more dangerous!

    June 26, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  2. Thomas

    So is he moving from the 5th ring of hell to the 4th or vice versa?

    June 26, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  3. BADGUY

    Gee! How appropriate! The Vatican, Opus Dei and Fox News ALL in the same cess pool!

    June 26, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • BADGUY

      Gee! How appropriate! The Vatican, Opus Dei and Fox News ALL in the same cess..correction...press pool

      June 26, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • Ruhlmann

      Gee does he get a big fancy hat? With the FOX logo?

      June 26, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Ruhlmann

      potAto, POTaTO, tomAto, TOMaTO

      June 26, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  4. Ken in NC

    The Vatican could go ot and hire a host of media people to clean up their act but if they don't listen to them, nothing changes.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  5. ScienceLady

    I think I just vomited up the last bit of me that was catholic. Thank god ! I feel better now.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:47 am |
  6. jack

    Fox propaganda. Vatican propaganda. Same job just in a different city.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  7. southernwonder

    as a result of this new fox hire, vatican will now create a no-child-abuse-zone in a corner of every church .

    June 26, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  8. nick

    yeah that sounds about right.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:43 am |
  9. southernwonder

    vatican used jesus as the p.r. man. he didn't work out too well. most churches in europe go empty.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  10. Delusions 3:15

    Opus Dei was found to be selling access to JP II for large sums of money. Why are they even allowed in Vatican City ? Their founder was convictd in Mexico of pedophia. W.T.F ?

    June 26, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • Delusions 3:15

      oops ... pedophilia

      June 26, 2012 at 1:41 am |
    • BADGUY

      Opus Dei is the Pope's "SS". He's using it to purge any and all left wing influences in the Church. The founder of Opus Dei, a Spanish Priest, Josemaria Escriva. is noted for saying: "Hitler wasn't that bad. He COULDN'T have killed 6 Million Jews!...4 Million maybe"/ I guess Joe Ratzinger is just harkening back to his Nazi training in the WWII German Army!

      June 26, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  11. jroja

    This story is so not notable. I mean I've never heard of this guy til now. So why is it on the front page of CNN news?

    And just for a few corrections:

    Burke practices mortification, not self-flagellation. There is a difference.

    Pope John Paul II was not a member of Opus Dei, just like he neither was a member of the Legionaries of Christ, Franciscan Friars of the Renewal or any organization that was raised to its current status under his pontificate.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • Delusions 3:15

      Read the story. They asked him if he flagellates. He said "I try".

      June 26, 2012 at 1:50 am |
    • Delusions 3:15

      "Burke says self-flagellation is part of his personal practice as well, saying 'I try to.' "

      June 26, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  12. Ricky N

    You mean they couldn't get Hannity or O'reilly? The 2 biggest fans of the Holy Se already. How the once mighty have fallen.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  13. Greenspam

    What a horrible choice. Even God would be upset.

    June 26, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  14. joAneeMN

    Time to leave the catholic church

    June 26, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  15. Chris

    Have to admit, using a Fox reporter does not improve the Vatican's credibility.

    In general, its probably not Fox's reporter's fault that their news is so blatantly sltanted – but the fact that they continue to put up with it does attest to their journalistic ethics.

    Frankly, I would hope the Vatican would be more skillfull in selection of people who will end up conveying the ethical issues of the Vatican.

    But the reality is this is just another step to the isolation of the Vatican from the body Catholic. It wouldn't surprise me if we end up with an American Pope, a Pan-Hispanic Pope, etc.

    June 26, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  16. noname

    Perfect! Reporter from a corrupt news group (if you can call it news) joining a corrupt religion and corrupt city-state...the Vatican.

    Dear Vatican – please take all the GOP and tea party morons and recruit them so everyone is in the Vatican..makes it easy to keep track of the world's idiots.

    June 26, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  17. A Frayed Knot

    CNN,

    But was he a "Top" reporter...?

    June 26, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • milo

      ha! Funny... never heard of him either!

      June 26, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Delusions 3:15

      No hun ... "top" was referring to something else entirely.

      June 26, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  18. Bill

    I don't understand how you can call a guy picked by a bunch of other guys the 'Holy See'.

    June 26, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  19. Chaos

    Fox News reporter he serial child molester protection club's media guy. FIgures.

    June 26, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  20. Good News!

    Mirror Mirror

    So you attacked the attackers, make pointed personal attacks at the people who make pointed personal attacks. You sound bitter and jealous about the people who sound bitter and jealous . . . and you feel self righteous about being what you despise. Interesting.

    *****
    Nah, I distanced myself and became and interested observer. And that's what I observed. But thanks for playing.

    June 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Mirrror Mirror

      Fail #1 – reply button

      Fail #2 – You "distanced yourself and became and interested observer . . . attacking the attackers, making pointed personal attacks at the people who make pointed personal attacks, sounding bitter and jealous about the people who sound bitter and jealous . . . and you feel self righteous about being what you despise." Nothing about your second post negates my comments. It actually dovetails perfectly.

      But you get bonus points for a double fail.

      Shall we go for triple fail and reveal your other identities, bubbly dan?

      June 26, 2012 at 2:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.