Vatican hires Fox News flunky, Opus Dei activist, to run PR — Har!

The Vatican, stung by communications blunders and mired in a leaks scandal, has hired an American journalist from Fox News and member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei to help improve its relations with the media…

Greg Burke, Fox’s Rome-based roving correspondent for Europe and the Middle East, will assume the new post of “senior communications adviser” to the Secretariat of State, the key department in the Vatican’s central bureaucracy.

Burke, 52, a native of St Louis, Missouri, has been working for Fox for 10 years…

He will report directly to the Vatican’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the third-ranking person in the Vatican hierarchy. Father Federico Lombardi will remain spokesman…

I’ve had a lot of diverse media experience that I hope I can put to use for the Church that I love,” Burke said…

The pontificate of Pope Benedict, which began in 2005, has been mired in a difficult relationship with the media…

Communications disasters for the Vatican have included the Pope’s decision in 2009 to lift the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who was later discovered to have denied the full extent of the Holocaust.

Another public relations nightmare for the Vatican came in 2006 when Muslims around the world interpreted a speech by the pope at Regensburg, Germany as an attack on Islam.

Burke’s appointment puts control of Public Relations for the Pope back in the grasp of Opus Dei. Joaquin Navarro-Valls was the front man for Pope John-Paul before Benedict and was removed and replaced by the Francisan Federico Lombardi.

This move puts the rightwing of the Catholic Church firmly back in control of the voice of the papacy. I wonder if Fox News and Rupert Murdoch will get even more special treatment than they get, now? Better yet – will Fox News expand their support for the backwards lockstep march of the Church of Rome demanding strict obedience to useless doctrine?

A Mother, a sick son – and his father, the priest

Father Henry Willenborg baptising his son, Nathan, in 1987

With three small children and her marriage in trouble, Pat Bond attended a spirituality retreat for Roman Catholic women in Illinois 26 years ago in hopes of finding support and comfort.

What Ms. Bond found was a priest — a dynamic, handsome Franciscan friar in a brown robe — who was serving as the spiritual director for the retreat and agreed to begin counseling her on her marriage. One day, she said, as she was leaving the priest’s parlor, he pulled her aside for a passionate kiss.

Ms. Bond separated from her husband, and for the next five years she and the priest, the Rev. Henry Willenborg, carried on an intimate relationship, according to interviews and court documents. In public, they were both leaders in their Catholic community in Quincy, Ill. In private they functioned like a married couple, sharing a bed, meals, movie nights and vacations with the children.

Eventually they had a son, setting off a series of legal battles as Ms. Bond repeatedly petitioned the church for child support. The Franciscans acquiesced, with the stipulation that she sign a confidentiality agreement. It is now an agreement she is willing to break as both she and her child, Nathan Halbach, 22, are battling cancer.

With little to lose, they are eager to tell their stories: the mother, a once-faithful Catholic who says the church protected a philandering priest and treated her as a legal adversary, and the son, about what it was like to grow up knowing his absentee father was a priest.

Uh, a heck of a tale. RTFA.

None of it is surprising – to anyone who reads beyond the pap served up in the bulk media or Sunday sermons. But, it’s a well-told tale and should arouse questions and dissent within the flock.

It should also raise real political questions among ordinary citizens who must be tired of giving tax-free perks to organized religion.