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Spokesman says Vatican can't control its message

PARIS (Reuters) - The Vatican does not have control over its own communications and should improve the way it presents controversial statements, spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told a French Catholic newspaper on Thursday.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful as he celebrates his weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, February 4, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Lombardi spoke to the daily La Croix after almost two weeks of heated debate over Pope Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunications of four ultra-traditionalist bishops, one of whom has denied the Holocaust.

Jewish groups, Catholic bishops and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Williamson’s comments and many urged the Vatican to ensure the four bishops respect reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

“We didn’t control the communications,” said Lombardi, whose office originally announced the pope’s decision in a simple statement accompanied by the Vatican legal document that readmitted the four back into the Roman Catholic Church.

“I think we still have to create a communications culture inside the Curia, where each dicastery (ministry) communicates by itself, not necessarily thinking of going through the press room or issuing an explanatory note when the issue is complex.”

The Holocaust denial by Bishop Richard Williamson, broadcast three days before the Vatican announcement, overshadowed the public discussion of the move. Under heavy criticism, the Vatican demand on Wednesday that he publicly recant.

Lombardi, whose comments were distributed by La Croix before publication on Friday, said the Vatican could have avoided several hectic days if it had issued the order for Williamson to recant along with the announcement of the bans lifting.

“Especially when it’s about hot topics, it’s better to prepare the explanations,” he said.

Lombardi said the Vatican officials who dealt with the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), the breakaway group the four bishops lead, focused on the views of the group’s leader Bishop Bernard Fellay and not those of Williamson or the others.

“They didn’t take the views of the other bishops enough into account,” he said. “One thing that’s certain is that the pope didn’t know. If someone should have known, it was Cardinal (Dario) Castrillon Hoyos.”

Castrillon Hoyos heads the Vatican department that deals with traditionalist Catholics.

Lombardi said modern communications made it difficult for the Vatican to issue some statements.

“Certain documents are meant for specialist of canon law, others for theologians, others for all Catholics or all people,” he said. “But today, whatever the type of document, it all ends up directly in the public sphere. It gets difficult to manage.”

The announcement on lifting the excommunications was negotiated “up to the last minute,” the spokesman said, and some points remained a bit confusing.

“The communique accompanying it left too much in doubt, giving rise to different interpretations,” he said.

(For more on faith and ethics, see the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld at )

Reporting by Tom Heneghan; editing by Andrew Roche