June 25th, 2012
04:26 PM ET
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.
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.
"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."
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.