VATICAN/FILE: Joaquin Navarro-Valls resigns as the Vatican's chief spokesman after 22 years
- Title: VATICAN/FILE: Joaquin Navarro-Valls resigns as the Vatican's chief spokesman after 22 years
- Date: 12th July 2006
- Summary: (EU) HAVANA, CUBA (FILE - JANUARY 22, 1998 ) (REUTERS) POPE JOHN PAUL WITH CUBAN PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO POPE AND CASTRO, WITH NAVARRO-VALLS WALKING BEHIND
- Reuters ID: LVAAQNXTOPHNZSZA693L0SW052UI
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- Topics: Communications,Religion
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- Story Text: Joaquin Navarro-Valls, arguably the most famous figure in the Vatican after the Pope himself, stepped down on Tuesday (July 11) after 22 years as chief spokesman.
The Vatican said Pope Benedict had accepted Navarro-Valls' request to resign and had named Father Federico Lombardi, Jesuit director of Vatican Radio and Vatican Television, to succeed him. Lombardi, 63, will keep those posts, the Vatican said.
Navarro-Valls, a suave, handsome Spaniard who has been spokesman since 1984 and whose career was closely associated with the papacy of John Paul II, had expressed an interest in moving on and dedicating his time to writing a book.
He had become a celebrity in his own right in Italy and in many other Catholic countries.
Navarro-Valls, 69, a member of the controversial Church group Opus Dei, was only the second non-cleric to be Vatican spokesman. He was at John Paul's side during his many international travels.
"Navarro-Valls has been the real spin doctor of the papacy and he was the first spin doctor in the European media system long before the famous spin doctors of the Blair government," said Marco Politi, "La Repubblica" Vatican correspondent.
"He had the ability to foster the interest about John Paul II, sometimes to rise the interest about John Paul II. John Paul II was the great actor and Navarro was like in the cinema industry the man who was putting the lights about the actor."
Navarro was on news bulletins nearly non-stop during the final weeks of John Paul's pontificate in April 2005 and the during the conclave that elected Pope Benedict.
His study of medicine in his native Spain enabled him to explain the late Pope's health problems to the media.
His ability to keep cool under pressure cracked only once in public, when he choked and struggled to hold back his tears at one of the last briefings before John Paul's death.
In 1984, John Paul asked Navarro-Valls, then working as a journalist for Spanish newspapers, to take over the Vatican press office and gave him the task of opening it up more to the international media.
A member of the late Pope's "kitchen cabinet", he was on the front-line in explaining sometimes controversial teachings on morality and sexuality to the world's media in five languages.
Pope John Paul often used Navarro-Valls as a trouble-shooter and gave him tasks normally entrusted to diplomats.
In 1998 he went to Cuba to negotiate directly with Fidel Castro to iron out last-minute snags over John Paul's historic visit. He was also part of official Vatican delegations to U.N. conferences on the family and women normally made up of clerics.
"Pope Ratzinger doesn't believe so much in the role of a press agent," Politi explained. "Once he told Mr Navarro that one concept is stronger than thousand pictures and so he let already understand that for him a spin doctor is not necessary."
"He'll be the only communicator, he, Pope Benedict XVI will be the only communicator of his papacy and he needs only people who work with him around in the staff."
"Father Lombardi is a very good professional," Politi continued. "But the fact that he continue to be director of the television, director of the radio and also director of the press office means that he will organise the work but he will not be so on the stage like Navarro-Valls has been for 22 years."
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- Embargoed:27th July 2006 13:00