December 31, 2018 / 11:29 AM / in 5 months

Vatican spokesman, deputy, resign over strategy differences

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican spokesman and his deputy resigned on Monday over disagreements on strategy, ending a year of upheaval in the Holy See’s communications structure.

A brief Vatican statement gave no reason for the resignations. Spokesman Greg Burke, an American, tweeted that he and his Spanish deputy, Paloma Garcia Ovejero, had quit to let Pope Francis appoint a new team in what was a “time of transition”.

A Vatican source said both Burke and Ovejero had wanted more autonomy from the Vatican department that oversees all communications, known as the Dicastery for Communications.

They quit two weeks after Pope Francis appointed a personal friend, Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, to become editorial director of all Vatican communications.

The source said it was believed to be the first time both posts had changed hands simultaneously, underscoring the differences of opinion.

“Paloma and I have resigned, effective Jan. 1. At this time of transition in Vatican communications, we think it’s best the Holy Father is completely free to assemble a new team,” Burke tweeted.

The 59-year-old former Rome-based reporter for Fox News joined the Vatican in 2012 as an advisor in its Secretariat of State and become spokesman in 2016. He is a member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei.

Ovejero, 43, a former reporter for the Spanish radio network COPE, was one of the few high-ranking women in the Vatican.

During Burke and Ovejero’s tenure, the top two jobs in the Vatican press room were, unusually, held by non-Italians.

Tornielli is now the third-ranking person in the communications department but his closeness to the pope, whom he has known since before the pontiff’s election in 2013, will likely make him particularly influential.

Monday’s resignations capped a year of tensions in Vatican communications.

Monsignor Dario Vigano resigned as overall head in March after a scandal over a doctored letter, a public relations fiasco two months after the pope warned of the dangers of fake news.

Vigano released part of a letter by former Pope Benedict that was to have remained private, using it to promote a book on the theology of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis poses with Vatican spokesman Greg Burke (R) and deputy Vatican spokesperson Paloma Garcia Ovejero during a meeting at the Vatican in this undated handout. Media/Handout via REUTERS

A promotional photo for the book released by Vigano blurred a part of the letter in which Benedict declined to write an introduction, saying he was unhappy with one of its contributors.

Vigano was replaced in July by Paolo Ruffini, ex-head of a Catholic television station.

The Vatican said Alessandro Gisotti, an Italian journalist who has handled the Vatican’s social media, would be interim spokesman.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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