New Vatican Strategy – The Pope’s health is no longer a state secret


In his speeches to media professionals, Pope Francis repeatedly emphasizes his gratitude for the work of journalists. At the same time, he warns them to report truthfully and in the interest of the public interest and not to spread rumors or slander. In stark contrast at the end of March 2023 was the Vatican’s information policy when it came to the pope’s health – and in particular the circumstances of his hospitalization on the Wednesday before Palm Sunday.

Poor and initially misleading communication from the Vatican press office and the lack of communication from the Gemelli clinic in Rome allowed wild rumors to circulate.

“Acute, life-threatening crisis”
While the press service, led by director Matteo Bruni, initially spoke of a planned investigation, Italian media reported an acute, life-threatening crisis. Reports on blogs and Twitter ranged from a high fever to occasional unconsciousness, and all referenced anonymous sources – believed to be medical staff at the Gemelli Clinic.

The planned investigation later culminated in bronchitis in Vatican communications, and later still, during one of his flying press conferences, the pope spoke of feverish pneumonia.

There may have been a strategy behind it with the aim of playing down the pope’s illness in the first instance so as not to weaken him publicly. Many in the Vatican still remember the long years of the openly celebrated illness and death of John Paul II, which led to a sort of erosion of papal office at the time.

Because the apparatus around him, especially his private secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz, actually took over the reins at the time. Especially in the last years of the pontificate – after initial attempts to play down his Parkinson’s disease – it was relatively openly communicated how badly things were going for the pope.

If the suppression of bad health news in March was deliberate, the calculation failed, the opposite happened. Against this background, it was a turn of 180 degrees when the Vatican press apparatus invited the doctor to a press conference at the Gemelli clinic early Wednesday evening, just hours after the surgical procedure. Professor Sergio Alfieri reported what interventions he had made and why.

And he even responded proactively to rumors that the pope had been suffering from cancer for months. For in interested (ie Franciscus-critical) circles it was repeatedly rumored that the pope would regularly be secretly taken to the Gemelli clinic for radiation treatment. Alfieri dismissed all this as false and spoke of 100 percent benign findings, both in the current operation and in the July 2021 intervention.

Loup Besmond de Senneville, French Vatican correspondent and president of the Association of Vatican Accredited Journalists, wrote appreciatively on Twitter: “The Vatican has completely changed its communication strategy. (…) Since yesterday, he chooses to provide regular and accurate information, almost in real time”.

But the new transparency offensive also has curious side effects. Doctor Alfieri corrected the pope himself, because he had spoken to journalists after the operation in 2021 that he had not tolerated the general anesthetic well and that he was still feeling the consequences.

Alfieri, on the other hand, testified to his prominent patient that he survived general anesthesia both then and now – even if the pope, like probably many people, probably didn’t like being sent to the unconsciousness of anesthesia.

Source: Krone


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