Vatican Spokesman Resigns Abruptly Amid Preparation For 2019 Fallout From Sex Abuse Crisis

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

The Vatican spokesman and his deputy resigned Monday to the surprise of the Vatican communication team amid preparations for Pope Francis’ summit on sex abuse.

Francis accepted the resignations of Vatican spokesman Greg Burke and his deputy Paloma Garcia Ovejero, effective Jan. 1, despite facing continued fallout from the Catholic Church’s global sex abuse crisis. The timing of the resignations sparked concerns that there may be problems with Francis’ efforts to overhaul Vatican bureaucracy, throwing the church into further tumult as Francis prepares for an important February summit on sex abuse with the presidents of bishops conferences from around the world. (RELATED: Illinois Abuse Report Reveals Church Hid Accusations Against 500 Priests)

“What’s more, given the standard rule of crisis communications that you don’t leave in the middle of the storm, but ride it out, to lose both the Vatican’s top press hands (both quite devout) in mid-scandal appears to signal that something has become professionally untenable,” tweeted Catholic commentator and writer Rocco Palmo.

Paolo Ruffini, head of Vatican communication, also noted that Francis will need a strong communication team to weather the continuing controversy over what sex abuse survivors, advocates and Catholic lay-faithful see as his failure to adequately address sex abuse and cover-up allegations in the church, including allegations against himself.

“The year ahead is full of important appointments that will require maximum communications efforts,” Ruffini said, according to The Associated Press.

The approaching summit on sex abuse is imbued with grave importance for the church, not only because of its subject matter, but also because the Vatican ordered the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to hold off on approving and implementing new protocols to hold bishops accountable for committing or failing to report sex abuse. Vatican officials asked the bishops to wait until they had attended the summit to act on any potential sex abuse reforms.

Despite leaving prior to the summit, Burke wrote on social media that he believed his departure was in the best interest of Francis’ papacy and the church.

“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. “New Year, New Adventures.”

Francis named Alessandro Gisotti, a veteran of the Vatican’s communication team, as Burke’s interim replacement.

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