updated 6/23/2012 5:14:58 PM ET 2012-06-23T21:14:58

The Vatican has brought in the Fox News correspondent in Rome to help improve its communications strategy as it tries to cope with years of communications blunders and one of its most serious scandals in decades, The Associated Press learned Saturday.

Greg Burke, 52, will leave Fox to become a senior communications adviser in the Vatican's secretariat of state, the Vatican and Burke told the AP.

"I'm a bit nervous but very excited. Let's just say it's a challenge," Burke said in a phone interview.

He defined his job, which he said he had been offered twice before, as: "You're shaping the message, you're molding the message, and you're trying to make sure everyone remains on-message. And that's tough."

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed the move to the AP, saying Burke will help integrate communications issues within the Vatican's top administrative office, the secretariat of state, and will help handle its relations with the Holy See press office and other Vatican communications offices.

Image: Greg Burke
Greg Burke is shown in a 2007 photo by Fox News.

Burke, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, is a member of the conservative Opus Dei movement. Pope John Paul II's longtime spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, was also a member of Opus Dei.

The Vatican has been bedeviled by communications blunders ever since Pope Benedict XVI's 2005 election, and is currently dealing with a scandal over Vatican documents that were leaked to Italian journalists. While the scandal is serious — Benedict himself convened a special meeting of cardinals Saturday to try to cope with it — the Vatican's communications problems long predate it.

Benedict's now-infamous speech about Muslims and violence, his 2009 decision to rehabilitate a schismatic bishop who denied the Holocaust, and the Vatican's response to the 2010 explosion of the sex abuse scandal are just a few of the blunders that have tarnished Benedict's papacy.

Even the Vatican's response to the leaks from within the Vatican of sensitive papal documents hasn't involved a terribly sophisticated public relations strategy. Just last week the Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, blamed the media and the devil for fueling the scandal and accused journalists of "pretending to be Dan Brown."

Brown wrote "The Da Vinci Code," the best-selling fictional account that portrayed Opus Dei — of which Bertone's new communications adviser is a member — as being at the root of an international Catholic conspiracy.

Burke acknowledged the task ahead but said that after turning down the Vatican twice before, he went with his gut and accepted the third time around. "This is an opportunity and challenge that I'm not going to get again," he said.

He said he didn't know what, if any, role his membership in Opus Dei played. Opus is greatly in favor in the Vatican these days, particularly as other new religious movements such as the Legion of Christ have lost credibility with their own problems. Currently, for example, the cardinal who is heading the Vatican's internal investigation into the leaks of documents is the Opus Dei prelate, Cardinal Julian Herranz.

"I'm an old-fashioned Midwestern Catholic whose mother went to Mass every day," Burke said. "Am I being hired because I'm in Opus Dei?" he asked. "It might come into play." But he noted he was also in Opus when he was hired by Time and Fox.

Burke has been a Fox correspondent since he joined the conservative U.S. network in 2001. He was the Time magazine correspondent in Rome for a decade before that. At Fox, he led the network's coverage of the death of John Paul and election of Benedict, and has covered the papacy since then, traveling with the pope around the globe. But he has also used Rome as a base for non-Vatican reporting, including several stints in the Middle East during the last intifada, labor law protests in France and the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid.

He is a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Divide grows between nuns, Vatican

  1. Closed captioning of: Divide grows between nuns, Vatican

    >>> and now the nun story. why are thousands of american nuns standing up to the vatican ? the battle is over criticism from rome . american nuns are radical feminists. their word. rome 's word for focusing on poverty and social justice . while staying silent on abortion and same-sex marriage. it is a fight that goes all the way back, in fact, four decades since the nuns first demanded the right for women to become priests. joining me, sister simone campbell, leading the network, a catholic social justice lobby. starting mo ining monday is going to be on a bus tour. nuns on a bus to rally opposition to paul ryan 's proposed health care cuts. sister simone , it's good to see you. thank you very much for joining me. tell me what inspired you and your colleagues, your fellow nuns to take on the bishops, in some case, and in fact the vatican ?

    >> well, actually what's really interesting about this is we're actually standing with their bishops who also say that the house passed ryan budget is actually immorale. when the center came out from the vatican and catholic sisters were getting so much attention, we said, well, we're not used to having attention on ourselves. i mean, that's not what we're about. we're about using our opportunities to serve the needs of people who live in poverty. who live at the margins of society. who have fallen through the cracks of our rather fractured tenuous economy. and so we came together and i invited help from our colleagues to say, what can we do to lift this moment up? and we know how terribly important it is that the american public understand the problems, the huge problems in the house-passed budget and that we need to educate the american people . and how to do it? well, it struck us that going on a bus and lifting up these issues might get information out beyond the beltway. beyond washington, d.c.

    >> it is an unusually public -- i know you waited several months after the vatican censure to decide how to respond. you took your time and did it in a very contemplative way, but you really are raising lots of issues and issues that really do affect women, primarily, women and children at the margins of our society economically.

    >> right. right. well, i think we need to make a distinction between the leadership conference of women religious who is really the biggest focus of the vatican criticism and they have a direct tie to rome in that they are like incorporated by rome so that their existence depends on rome 's approval. network, the organization i run, was criticized in this same document as a troublemaker, a suspect organization for lcwr. the women religious, to have a relationship with. so our response has been a little more public, a little more quickly. the leadership conference has had board meeting, was in rome earlier this week. and in prayer and reflection we'll be having more meetings this coming weekend and then over the summer in the regions. so that process is going on. our process is really a political process. lifting up our faith to push back, to use it for mission so that the people that jesus responded to in the gospel, the people that were cared about by jesus, the poor or the least and the lest as we sometimes say, that they are lifted up and the focus is on them and their needs. and our nation's soul is not corrupted further by the house ryan budget.

    >> sister simone , as far as the leadership conference is concerned, as you correctly point out, is basically created and answers to the vatican . they were rebuffed in their meetings in rome . can you explain to us what is the prospect now? what next steps are even open to them? to challenge the vatican authority?

    >> or even to dialogue with the vatican authority. i am -- i hope that this is like on capitol hill when you begin negotiations, everybody comes out saying, well, you know, we had candid discussion, which usually means there was some fighting going on, and that we were able to agree to disagree but we will continue in this process. and then everybody reiterates their starting position because nobody in a negotiation wants to give away their initial position too quickly. i come from a democratic culture. that's what i'm hoping is going on in rome . but i've been saying and realizing quite a bit that rome comes out of a culture of monarchy and we in the united states come out of a culture of democracy. and i think that's where the real tension is. this really isn't about tenets of faith. it's about culture understanding of the role of people and role of leadership. and i'm very concerned that women religious have had a long history of democratic dialogue and engagement. and rome hasn't. and how this is going to play out, i don't know. they're at the lcwr and the bishops are at the center of my prayer these days and my worry, i must confess.

    >> sister simone , thank you very much. thanks for joining us today. we will follow the nuns on the bus, your tour next week.

    >> do follow us. it's going to be a great trip. thank you.


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