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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. Jon

    It seems unlikely that the Vatican is going to be able to undo the damage to its image as long as Ratzinger the reactionary is the Pope.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jon

      I mean, as long as the Pope is going to be doing things like bringing Nazi apologists back into the church and smacking down Catholic nuns, its difficult to see how much the Vatican PR office can positively spin.

      June 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  2. Faith

    Fox News seems to be the ONLY tv news outlet these days that IS objective. That DOES have liberals and democrats on their panels who are willing to defend the president and be critical of him. I see NONE of that on CNN, MSNBC, the big three networks. etc. The Vatican hired him because he is a reporter with some integrity. Something that is missing (i.e., Andrea Mitchell lies through editing) in so many of the other outlets.

    June 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Answer

      LOL.

      Another daily laugh fest. I do love you quacks with all your spins. Can't convince people that you aren't nuts if you don't do the spin correct? Look everyone another nut from faux news comes to spew their delusions.

      June 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • zacharye

      Faith is an appropriate name. Faith means you believe in something without proof of its existence. I have faith that fox is more fair and balanced then cnn and msnbc.

      June 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • fintastic

      Are you really serious?? The words "integrity" and "fox news" don't belong on the same page

      June 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  3. Skipper

    I'm no fan of the Catholic church, but you can't blame them for seeking one of their own for the position......

    June 26, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  4. SheilaKA

    Opus Dei is majorly conservative, but nothing sinister. You probably wouldn't know if you met a member of it. Most of their members are lay persons who have jobs like everyone else. I think perhaps they found the right person for the job. I'm a committed Catholic christian and I recognize the purpose of corporal discipline (a number of religious congregations and orders practiced it in the past and some still do.) That said, I just can't help it: Self-flagellation just makes me picture that scene in the Monty Python film showing the monks among the plague stricken populace...

    June 26, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  5. clubschadenfreude

    I wonder, how do the evangelical protestants get over that they were being reported to by a Catholic? A member of Opus Dei, no less? Where are the usual claims of how the Pope is the anti-christ and the other rabid anti-catholic nonsense? Or is it simply convenience that makes them strange bedfellows as long as they think that they can "win" the theist race to force others to their religion in the end? Pity the amounts of money both sides are spending in trying to convert each others' members all over the world.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  6. Dumont Dermon

    What's the big deal? A corrupt pseudo religion hires a reporter from a corrupt pseudo News organization. Dozens of News Corp. emplyoyees are guilty of, bribery, Wire fraud, illegal phone hacking, wiretapping, perjury, obstruction of justice etc, Where else would the Great Pedophile Leader look for a henchman? Priests, Bishops and Cardinals across Ireland, England, France, America, South America etc. Have been found guilty of heinous crimes. This is a match made in "heaven". And don't forget to make your Sunday offering in that silver platter. And watch Fox News to get all the truth that the 83 year old Autralian Billionaire megalomaniac want's you to hear. Between the infallible Papacy and the Honest News Corp. how can you go wrong?

    June 26, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • frank

      wow, what a comment! are there really people as mentally sick as you?

      June 26, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Ha

      No, he's right, frank. You're the one who is mentally sick.

      June 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  7. LOL

    Looks like the Vatican needed another professional Liar to protect their Pedo-Bear Army of Priests from the EVIL clutches of Reality and Justice.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Chuckles

      Yes, why not just smear the guy because he used to work for Fox. Do you care to offer some evidences he was lying for a living and is a "Professional Liar"? You see, lack of such makes YOU the actual liar.

      June 26, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  8. Mike

    The neighbor catholic boy taught me to masterbate. Just sayin'....

    June 26, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  9. WachetAuf

    I am guessing that some producer must be preparing the ground for a new sitcom, "The Fox and the Hare."

    June 26, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  10. Hypatia

    He'll be perfectly used to fabricating lies to cover up for his bosses.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  11. Jt_flyer

    Not surprising from Fox (and I use the term very loosely) News

    June 26, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  12. citizenmn

    The alliance between Fox and the Vatican is exposed.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  13. michael

    If anyone can stomach honorable pedophiles with a full on smile and criticize liberals that want justice that would be a Fox news staff person.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  14. John

    Looks like the Vatican needed an expert propaganda spokesman. Good choice.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  15. SandyStorm

    Congratulations, Greg.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  16. Anita Bongtoke

    Faux news for a Faux religion... fitting

    June 26, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  17. Mike

    WANTED: masochistic spin doctor to pull aging corporation out of the gutter. must be proficient in Latin and not-so-good with the ladies.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  18. Peter Wolfe

    Is anybody surprised that this guy is from Fox News not Cnn though? The whipping boy won't actually be a boy for what little time this guy is in office because somebody volunteered for the abuse for now. Another important thing is that you cannot fix ugy like the catholics like other christian, muslim, or other organized religions are essentially ugly deriving power illegitamently from the poor e.g. elderly women for their own begotten gains. Foul odors don't go away once you put a fance cologne or perfume on; they just rot from the inside instead.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • chief

      fox news is full of catholic apologists.... they dont report crap on the priest issue.... hannity, geraldo, o'reilly, and on and on....

      June 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  19. Code

    The reporter is a piece of garbage but his appointment is hardly unexpected. Opus Dei is evil.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  20. lindaluttrell

    Hopefully, he got a pay raise, since the Vatican has more money than FOX...CNN...HLN...

    June 26, 2012 at 10:18 am |
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About this blog

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.