Vatican Radio: Propagation by the Airwaves

By Marilyn J. Matelski | Go to book overview

Introduction

In 1982, just months after celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, Vatican Radio personnel were stunned by the latest rumor among informed sources: Pope John Paul II was considering the possibility of removing the world's oldest transnational radio service from Jesuit hands, and reassigning it to the highly controversial, conservative lay organization, Opus Dei. Whether this alleged change in instrumental leadership was due to political partisanship, economic necessity, or a simple lack of communication, the news was unnerving, to say the least. Vatican Radio (also known as station HVJ) had enjoyed a long history of world recognition and credibility, supporting both the sacred and secular objectives of five popes throughout five decades of religious and political turmoil. True, the transnational radio network's programmatic content had been questioned before (aesthetically, editorially, and journalistically); but at no time in its fifty-year history had Vatican Radio's foundational support been placed in such jeopardy.

The original mission for Vatican Radio can be traced back as early as 1870, when the Papal States were invaded by the new Italian army. This act of aggression drove Pope Pius IX into exile in Vatican City, essentially depriving him of all temporal power and worldly status. In fact, from 1870 until the adoption of the Lateran Treaty ( 1929), the pope, although bishop of Rome, was for all intents and purposes a prisoner within his own country.

After the Lateran Treaty was signed, Vatican City was established as an independent, sovereign state within Italy, with separate laws, currency, and even postage stamps. The pope (now Pius XI) was also free to travel wherever and whenever he wanted. As tensions began to grow between Pius XI and Italy's Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, the implicit threat of future repression lingered. Since the Catholic Church wanted never again to repeat its recent record of defeat in modern world politics, members of the eccle-

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