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Saturday, November 30, 2013

The PR who helped make the Pope Francis popular - an ex US journalist who belongs to Opus Dei


  • Greg Burke, 53, is a senior media advisor to the Vatican
  • Used to work for Fox News and was hired by the Vatican in June 2012
  • Born in Missouri he is a member of the controversial Opus Dei
  • Pope joined Twitter a few months after he took up new role 

Trying on a firefighter's helmet, allowing a young boy to hug his leg during a mass and phoning up his followers for a chat are just a few of the ways Pope Francis has attracted headlines in the last few months.

And after years of negative press, the Catholic Church is basking in the 'Francis Effect' which has been credited with a 20 per cent rise in congregations in Britain, and similar boosts around the world.

But who is the PR guru working quietly behind the scenes to help push Pope Francis forward and leading the Church out of one of its darkest spells following a slew of recent scandals?
His name is Greg Burke and he is a senior media advisor to the Vatican.
Mr Burke, 53, a native of St Louis, Missouri, had been working for Fox for 10 years.
Before that he worked for Time magazine in Rome for 10 years.
He worked as a stringer for news agency Reuters in Rome early in his career and has also written several books, one about an Italian soccer team. 

In his previous jobs, he covered the illness and death of Pope John Paul II, the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the pedophile scandal, the VatiLeaks saga, and the crackdown on American nuns, reported The Daily Beast. 

Modern age: Mr Burke regularly tweets and is credited with encouraging the Pope to join Twitter

Modern age: Mr Burke regularly tweets and is credited with encouraging the Pope to join Twitter

'A scandal is a scandal, and I’ve reported on them all,' he says. 'It all had to be told, as much as things are true, it’s good they’ve come out.'
He grew up in a Catholic family with five brothers and sisters.
He became a member of the controversial Catholic group Opus Dei when he was 18 and is a 'numerary' in the movement, a celibate layman. 

His papal politics may have developed since his earlier days when shortly before Pope Benedict was selected he reasoned that he was not in the running, reported Vice.
'He’s considered too conservative,' Mr Burke explained, noting that the former pope was called 'the ‘Panzer Cardinal’ because he took so many hits for the pope. 
Burke's role - a revolution in the Vatican's communications structure - is similar to that of communications advisers in the White House.

He reports directly to the Vatican's deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the third-ranking person in the Vatican hierarchy.

Saint Francis: Pope Francis I took the time after his weekly Papal audience in St. Peter's Square to bless a man without a face
This week Pope Francis I took the time after his weekly Papal audience in St. Peter's Square to bless a severely disfigured man. The Pope has attracted headlines in the last few months.


Mr Burke is known for his American sense of humour.
'I actually thought I’d leave Fox [to] go work for a football club,' he told an auditorium full of reporters this year, reported Vice.
'Ended up in the Vatican. No free tickets to football matches – but really good seats at Christmas and Easter.'

Mr Burke is on Twitter where he often posts humorous photos and tweets.
One of them included a photo of popstar Jennifer Lopez in Italy alongside the caption: 'Was @JLo on a shopping spree for rosaries in Rome?'
Another post shows a photo of a convertible red Ferarri alongside the caption: 'Parked just outside #Vatican, but safe to say it's not a new car for #PopeFrancis.'

Mr Burke has also guided the Vatican through the modern digital age - the pope started tweeting a few months after he joined.
At the time Mr Burke said the Twitter handle @Pontifex is appropriate for a number of reasons.

'The handle is a good one. It means "pope" and it also means "bridge builder",' he said.
'The Pope wants to reach out to everyone.

Pope John Paul II's longtime spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, was also a member of Opus Dei.
Last year Mr Burke said he didn't know what, if any, role his membership in Opus Dei played in getting his role.

Opus is greatly in favor in the Vatican these days, particularly as other new religious movements such as the Legion of Christ have lost credibility with their own problems.
'I'm an old-fashioned Midwestern Catholic whose mother went to Mass every day,' Burke said last year.
'Am I being hired because I'm in Opus Dei?' he asked. 'It might come into play.'
Founded in 1928, Opus Dei is part of the Catholic Church and has 500 members across Britain.

The stated mission of the organisation - which means 'God's Work' - is to spread the Christian message and help people embrace Catholicism in their everyday work.
But it has attracted controversy over its practices including self-flagellation and radical teachings that homosexual sex is a sin.

Critics have also accused the organisation of brainwashing and being run like a cult.
The ultra-conservative Catholic group became famous worldwide after its sinister portrayal in the bestselling novel and blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code.

The film, starring Tom Hanks, is based on the Dan Brown novel which described Opus Dei as a murderous, power-hungry sect.



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