ROME, 31 August 2019 — Pope Francis on Saturday named Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò to the position of Vice Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
That lede is about as plain vanilla as anyone could write for this story. You might be doing a double-take. There’s a reason for that.
Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò (no relation to the whistleblower) is the fellow who resigned the leadership of the Holy See’s Secretariat (as it was then styled) for Communication in March of 2018. Pope Francis had chosen Msgr. Viganò to take his new comms department out of the gate, and lead it through a major overhaul of the Vatican’s entire comms apparatus.
Msgr. Viganò resigned in the wake of a major to-do dubbed the “Lettergate” affair: a fake news scandal that made headlines for weeks. Lettergate broke when Msgr. Viganò made inappropriate use of a letter from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, which he had solicited as part of his efforts to promote an eleven-book series on The Theology of Pope Francis. Msgr. Viganò selectively quoted from Benedict’s letter, and altered a publicity photo in a manner that put him on the wrong side of the AP’s ethical standards for news photography.
I’d worked in Vatican communications for more than a dozen years, first at Vatican Radio and then in the Secretariat for Communication, before leaving at the end of 2017. I’d seen a lot through the years, but what transpired in March of 2018 was pretty surprising.
Pope Francis picked Msgr. Viganò to oversee and direct a communications reform touted as the most significant reform of Vatican communications since Pius XI founded Vatican Radio. As things turned out, Msgr. Viganò couldn’t handle the press for a book series without playing fast and loose with the facts. Francis allowed Msgr. Viganò to resign, albeit “not without difficulty,” and inexplicably put that man into a position he invented for the former Prefect inside the same dicastery Msgr. Viganò used to lead, where nobody really knew what he did or was supposed to do.
Now, Pope Francis has put Msgr. Viganò into another position that didn’t exist until Francis decided Msgr. Viganò needed to be in it, “with specific competence for the communication sector,” according to the announcement in the Saturday bulletin from the Press Office.
Yes, you read all that right. No, I’m not making it up. You can’t make this stuff up. If this were the plot pitch for a Hollywood send-up of Vatican dysfunction, incompetence, and ineptitude, the pitch man would be shown the door in a hot second. It simply is not credible: not as parody, not even as farce.
To be perfectly frank, most of what I have to say about this business is unprintable.
The Saturday announcement capped a week of remarkable personnel decisions: dogged by scandal, the Apostolic Nuncio to Chile, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, has landed a plum position as Nuncio to Portugal, for example. Also on Saturday, Pope Francis’s mild-mannered and supremely competent interpreter, Msgr. Mark Miles, was named Permanent Observer to the Organization of American States — a portfolio that historically has gone to the Nuncio to the US or to the Permanent Observer to the UN.
There’s lots to say about those appointments, too, but first I have to get my head to stop spinning.
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