VATICAN CITY — The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council is being celebrated as a major step in the opening of the Vatican Press Office, the successor of the council’s information office.
LUMSA, a Rome university nestled between St. Peter’s Square and Vatican Radio, held a conference this morning marking the 50th anniversary of the press office, its evolving role and — more generally — the church’s changing attitude toward and relationship with the press.
As Catholic News Service marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II by posting the dispatches written by its team of reporters covering the council, the work they produced becomes even more striking in the light of the problems that faced Italian Catholic journalists trying to report on the council.
During the Second Vatican Council, Raniero La Valle was editor of Avvenire, the Italian bishops’ daily newspaper. He said the fact that during the first session of the council almost everything officially was considered secret “put us in great difficulty.”
“Information did come out, but we couldn’t write most of it,” he said this morning. “Our hands were tied behind our backs.”
La Valle said Italian news stories about the 1962 session of the council are “not fully accurate” because the Italian Catholic press felt bound by the secrecy rules, while the Italian secular press based their reports on interviews with anyone they could find. La Valle said most of those willing to be interviewed had an agenda and wanted to get out their point of view.
“The council could not be covered except as a scoop by secular journalists,” he said.
As the old CNS stories spelled out, the U.S. bishops participating in the council acted quickly to help the English-speaking journalists cover the council. They established a panel of experts to meet with reporters each day and answer their questions.
La Valle said that when the second session of the council opened in 1963, Msgr. Pericle Felici, the council’s general secretary, told reporters that while the workings of the council were to be considered secret, reporters should feel free to use “common sense” in determining the limits of the secrecy. From then on, he said, the Italian Catholic media began fully reporting the council.
“For four years, the council was good news and that’s how the public saw it,” he said. Despite traditionalist voices that try to imply the council — or interpretations of it — have destroyed the church, “it remains good news, which is the reason the church is celebrating its 50th anniversary,” La Valle said.