VATICAN STATE (ChurchMilitant.com) - Greg Burke has resigned from his position as Vatican press secretary. Deputy Spokesman Paloma Garcia Ovejero has also stepped down.
In a tweet issued Monday, Burke wrote, "Paloma and I have resigned, effective Jan. 1. At this time of transition in Vatican communications, we think it's best the Holy Father is completely free to assemble a new team."
The resignations come less than two weeks after Pope Francis appointed left-leaning Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli as editorial director for the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, and Andrea Monda as editor-in-chief of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper.
Tornielli has worked as a Vatican correspondent for more than two decades, most recently contributing to Italian journal La Stampa and Vatican Insider.
He has been a consistent defender of the pope, even once publishing a conservative "hit list" of Francis' alleged "enemies," i.e., journalists and leaders who have been openly critical of the pontiff. Among those named are prominent Italian Vatican experts Roberto de Mattei, Sandro Magister and Antonio Socci.
Tornielli also criticized two initiatives directed toward Pope Francis: the Filial Appeal, which received about 1 million signatures; and a petition signed by 45 signatories asking the pontiff to clear up confusion in the wake of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
He has taken the pope's side against former papal nuncio Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò, whose testimony exposed Pope Francis as protector and promoter of Abp. Theodore McCarrick, a serial sexual predator. In August, Tornielli published a report of alleged "facts and omissions" from Viganò's testimony, unsuccessfully attempting to discredit the whistleblower.
Burke's resignation also follows Pope Francis' move to appoint Italian journalist and friend Alessandro Gisotti, who handled social media for the Holy See and also worked at Vatican Radio.
"[I will seek] to fulfill the office given to me to the best of my abilities with the spirit of service to the Church and to the pope which I have the privilege to learn by being next to Father Federico Lombardi for almost 20 years," Gisotti said in a statement.
Burke's supervisor Paolo Ruffini seemed caught by surprise by the abrupt resignations, publishing a brief statement saying he had "learned" of their decision, characterizing it as a "free and autonomous choice" and thanking them for "the dedication with which they've performed their work.”
After spending several years as a Fox News correspondent, Burke took on the role of deputy spokesman for the Vatican in 2015, assuming the role of spokesman in 2016 and replacing longtime veteran Fr. Federico Lombardi.
In a follow-up tweet Monday, Burke, an Opus Dei numerary, wrote, "New Year, New Adventures."
Vatican communications has gone through a tumultuous year, with the "Lettergate" scandal leading to the resignation of Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò from his position as head of the Vatican Secretariat of Communications earlier this year.
The Vatican admitted in March it had doctored a photo of a letter written by Pope Benedict, which resulted in altering the meaning of the letter. According to the Associated Press, "The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards."
The partially concealed letter had been used to slam critics of Pope Francis because it was used to portray Pope Benedict as supportive of Francis' pontificate. The blurred paragraph concealed by the Vatican, however, revealed that Benedict had actually refused to write an endorsement, as requested, for a series of theological reflections honoring Pope Francis because of Benedict's objection to a heterodox theologian contributor.
The scandal resulted in international media attention, with liberals in the Church defending Viganò, and the pope himself reluctant to accept his resignation. It took three private meetings with Viganò and further public fallout before Francis accepted his resignation. Even then, the pontiff asked him to remain on the dicastery as assessore ("councilor"), essentially second in command.