Attacco a Ratzinger

Two respected Vaticanisti, Paolo Rodari and Andrea Tornielli, have written a book analysing the various occasions during Pope Benedict's papacy when he has been subjected to fierce attack in the media: Attacco a Ratzinger: Accuse e scandali, profezie e complotti ("Attack on Ratzinger: Accusations and Scandals, Prophecies and Plots").

There is a lengthy review (in Italian) by Massimo Introvigne: I tre nemici del Papa (The three enemies of the Pope). I was reading this when a tweet came up with a link to an even longer review by John Allen: 'Attack on Ratzinger': Italian book assesses Benedict's papacy.

In addition to the main lines of the various stories which most Catholic blog readers will be familiar with, Attacco a Ratzinger has much material that has hitherto not been published. This is a valuable contribution since, as we know, the Italian Vaticanisti have proved time and again that they do have access to reliable inside information. John Allen quotes a "zinger" produced by Tornielli and Rodari with regard to the forced resignation of Bishop Wagner as auxiliary in Linz. They have a quote from a Vatican official:
Cardinals and bishops can publicly criticize the pope all they want, but an auxiliary bishop is forced to resign because of a couple of statements years ago about Katrina and Harry Potter … it's truly incredible.
Allen comments:
Getting that kind of insider skinny is a primary reason we need an English translation of the book.
Attacco a Ratzinger identifies three ingredients to the various PR crises that have faced Pope Benedict:
  • The media taking particular quotations out of context and writing or broadcasting inflammatory copy
  • Catholics (including priests and bishops) who are hostile to the Holy Father
  • The weakness of the response of the media operation of the Holy See
In the case of Summorum Pontificum, Introvigne notes:
What is at stake, as the authors justly note [...] is not only the liturgy but the interpretation of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II. Those who oppose the motu proprio defend the hegemony of that interpretation of Vatican II, in terms of discontinuity and rupture with the whole of the preceding Tradition, which Benedict XVI has tried in many ways to correct and undermine.
Introvigne points out that the various secularist lobbies against Pope Benedict have enjoyed particular success because they have been able to enrol liberal progressive Catholics; as he explains:
Interviews with progressive Catholics allow the media to represent their secularist propaganda not as anti-Catholic, but as a support against the reactionary pope who wants to "abolish the council," who is challenging its alleged "spirit", since the text of the documents of the council is not even known by anti-Catholic journalists and is considered irrelevant by their "Adult Catholic" fellow travellers.
Both Massimo Introvigne and John Allen highlight the way in which Attacco a Ratzinger has placed a spotlight on the failure of those who should be assisting the Holy Father to respond adequately to the dramatic changes in communication of recent years. The development of the internet through a combination of social networking and handheld devices has reduced response times to minutes. The Holy Father himself seems to be more clued-up about this than many of his experts.

John Allen justly emphasises the case of Bishop Williamson. He lists the members of what he calls "the Vatican's most senior brains trust" who gathered to discuss the presentation of the decree lifting the excommunications of the SSPX bishops. Williamson's comments on the holocaust had been in worldwide circulation for two days and yet the matter was not even discussed at a meeting specifically concerned with public presentation. Allen also notes, of course, that five minutes on google would have alerted the Vatican to Williamson's "troublesome history" even if he had never given the interview with Swedish TV.

He offers a useful analysis of PR crisis management, following Eric Dezenhall's point that a crisis is not an "opportunity" in the modern world of instant communication, but a "mugging" because of a new breed of "crisis capitalists" who will pile in when someone is in trouble. Introvigne calls them "moral entrepreneurs" which is another good term. Dezenhall says that they include:
reporters, victims, bloggers, tweeters, plaintiffs' lawyers, regulators, legislators, non-governmental organizations, activists, short-sellers, anonymous sources, technical experts, analysts, media hounds, opportunists, and a cavalcade of amateur crisis experts.
Allen points out that the conclusion seems obvious:
From a PR point of view, it doesn't matter whether anyone is actually out to get you, because when a crisis starts rolling, market dynamics will compel people to act as if they were. The aim, therefore, isn't to persuade them not to mug you; the aim is to avoid making it easier.
He then applies this advice intelligently to the case of the Holy Father's remarks on AIDS on the plane on the way to Cameroon, suggesting a practical strategy that would have "made it more difficult to portray Pope Benedict as isolated, out of touch, and uncaring, which was the storyline that dominated the African journey." His advice is moderate, sensible, and practical; it reeks of his experience of the way the mainstream media works.

As I mentioned, John Allen has pleaded for an English translation of the book. He also volunteered to write a preface to introduce the book to English-speaking readers. As things are going, I rather think that he should set his sights higher and apply for the post of Press Officer to the Holy See.

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