The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation just before the start of Lent season comes as a shocking surprise to the world. Depending on how “resignation” is defined and how the Holy See’s records are interpreted, as few as four and as many as 10 popes have renounced the Papacy.
The last pope that resigned was Pope Gregory XII in the early 1400s, and like his predecessors, Pope Benedict’s resignation is sprinkled with controversy. So, how does the Vatican respond to such unprecedented news?
The Vatican’s semi-official daily newspaper is L’Osservatore Romano, and so far it is gearing its coverage toward restoring readers’ faith in the Church by emphasizing that the Pope’s resignation is conquerable and recoverable.
The newspaper’s coverage hammers three central points: the Pope’s resignation is a difficult and regretful decision but made for the greater good; the Pope’s character is that of courage and humility to admit his
inability to stay in his position; and the Church will recover from all of this.
Rather than focusing on the fact that the Pope is leaving his position, L’Osservatore Romano draws
attention to the Pope’s character, calling him courageous and humble for being so honest. And despite the social lashing the Catholic Church has received in the media, the Vatican’s messaging isn’t defensive, but supportive and positive.
Consistency is key in the Vatican’s messaging, particularly at a time when a lot of people are looking to the Holy See for a resolution and a way to restore order. In fact, the messaging has been so consistent and effective that it is positioning the Pope’s resignation as an opportunity for change and a restoration of faith in the Church.
The Vatican’s approach serves as a good example that it is not enough to communicate what will be done to fix a situation, but rather it is how a message is communicated that determines whether the message can restore people’s faith.
— Joanne Sibug, firstname.lastname@example.org