Pope Francis today accepted the resignations of Greg Burke and Paloma García Ovejero after almost two and a half years’ service as respective director and vice director of the Holy See Press Office.
The Vatican announced the news in a brief statement, adding that Alessandro Gisotti, currently coordinator of social media for the Vatican Dicastery for Social Communication, would temporarily take over the running of the office until a new structure is put in place.
In comments on Twitter, Burke, an Opus Dei numerary and native of St. Louis, said “at this time of transition in Vatican communications, we think it’s best the Holy Father is completely free to assemble a new team.”\
He added in another tweet: “I joined the Vatican in 2012. The experience has been fascinating, to say the least. Thank you, Pope Francis. Un abrazo muy fuerte [a very big hug].”
Burke, a former Rome correspondent for Fox News, Time Magazine and the Register, was hired as the Vatican’s strategic communications adviser in 2012, before being appointed deputy director of the Holy See Press Office in 2015, and then director in 2016.
Garcia, a former radio host and Rome and Vatican correspondent for various television and news services, tweeted: “Thank you, Holy Father, for these two and a half years! Thank you, Greg, for your trust, your patience and your example.”
Their resignations came as a surprise to many in the Vatican press corps, but follow two significant recent appointments in Vatican communications.
On Dec. 18, Pope Francis chose Italian Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli to be editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication. He also appointed author and journalist Andrea Monda as editor-in-chief of L’Osservatore Romano, replacing Giovanni Maria Vian. Both are likely to take Vatican communications in a different direction.
The departures of Burke and Garcia follow an extensive overhaul of Vatican communications, including a major five-year structural reform program and the appointment earlier this year of a lay prefect of the dicastery, Paolo Ruffini.
In a statement, Ruffini expressed some surprise at the news, saying he had learned of Burke’s and Garcia’s decision, that it was an “autonomous and free choice,” but one he respected.
He praised their professionalism and said he had full confidence in Gisotti, who has also served as deputy chief editor of Vatican Radio.
“The year ahead is full of important appointments that will require maximum communications efforts,” Ruffini said.
Gisotti thanked the Pope for “the trust he has placed in me at such a delicate time for the communication of the Holy See” and thanked Burke and Garcia for their service.
“I know that my job, even if temporary, is particularly demanding but I am comforted by the great merits of my colleagues in the Press Office, whose professionalism and dedication I have been able to appreciate on many occasions,” Gisotti said.
The Italian journalist is the author of “God and Obama: Faith and Politics in the White House,” a 2010 book that examined the faith of the former U.S. President.
The appointments come after a difficult year in Vatican communications with the sudden departure of Ruffini’s predecessor, Msgr. Dario Viganò, in March. Msgr. Viganò resigned after the ‘Lettergate‘ affair, in which he misrepresented a letter written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and concealed a photograph of it.
Burke appears to be happy with his decision to step down. In follow-up comments on Twitter today, he said simply: “New Year, New Adventures.”