Wednesday, June 19, 2013

John L. Allen, Jr. - All the Pope's Men

Several years ago the journalist John L. Allen, Jr. spoke at Mount Angel Seminary and shared some of the wisdom he has gained from his years of covering the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter.  His popular blog, All Things Catholic, is among the resources included on our blog.

The introduction to his book All the Pope's Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks will likely be a part of the journalism course this fall.  He explains that his job as a reporter is to serve as a bridge between the world of the Vatican and the English-speaking world for which he writes.

Below is an informative passage from later in this book in which Allen describes some of the background and skills he must bring to his work as a journalist in Rome.  He demonstrates the time a reporter, including our seminarians covering Mount Angel Seminary, must dedicate to his beat:

While it is true that the Vatican is hard for outsiders to grasp, this is less because it's secretive than because it's unique.  It takes time to become familiar with the system and the personnel.  Once that's accomplished, however, there's very little an enterprising observer can't ferret out.  For a reporter to understand the Vatican, one must master three "languages": Italian, the specialized language of the Catholic Church, meaning a knowledge of church history, scripture, theology, liturgy, and canon law; and the language of the Roman Curia, meaning its systems and culture.  One doesn't have to be a genius to crack these codes, but it requires time.  One had to take Vatican officials to lunch and dinner, to attend the sometimes tedious symposia and book presentations and embassy parties where contacts are made and impressions formed, to read the theological journals and news services in several languages where intelligence on the Vatican is found.  One has to have the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of theologians and church historians and diplomats handy, with the understanding that these folks are disposed to be helpful.  It's a beat where personal contacts outside official channels make an enormous difference, and all that takes time to cultivate.  It is essential, however, if journalists wish to accurately open up this world to the public (76-77).

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