From Sandro Magister:
Fewer pages, and more text. The number of pages fell to 8, from their former 12 or 16, while the text increased by 10 percent. The page design is sober and elegant, and will be even more so with a graphic redesign that is in development. Gone are the enormous headlines and the full-page photos of recent years.
The layout is better organized: on the first and last pages are the words of the pope and the major Vatican events, with a brief commentary and the official statements. The second and third pages present international politics, Italy included. Culture is on the fourth and fifth pages. On the sixth and seventh is news about the Catholic Church around the world, about the other Christian confessions, and about the other religions.
The previous regular contributions and features have been eliminated, and the outside commentators have changed. Not all of them are Catholic. Anna Foa, for example, who is Jewish and a history teacher at Rome’s “La Sapienza” university, wrote on a burning issue, the reason why hundreds of thousands of Arabs abandoned the land occupied by Israel in the first war of 1948.
Another new development is that women are writing front page commentaries: the jurist Patrizia Clementi, the non-Catholic feminist Eugenia Roccella, the historian Lucetta Scaraffia. In a lucky stroke of foresight, Scaraffia wrote an article highlighting the ideas of a teacher of international law at Harvard, Mary Ann Glendon, who was designated a few days later as the new United States ambassador to the Holy See.
The stated goal of the new director Vian is to bring to the pages of “L’Osservatore Romano” intellectuals of the highest caliber, “who know how to prompt thought and discussion even beyond the perimeter of the Church.”
The biblicist Gianfranco Ravasi, the new president of the pontifical council for culture, is one of these. Then there is the great specialist in ancient Christian literature Manlio Simonetti, a worldwide authority on questions like the relationship between the canonical Gospels and the apocryphal and Gnostic writings, which today have returned dangerously into fashion. Then there is Inos Biffi, an unparalleled expert in medieval theology. Then there are the rising stars of the pro-Ratzinger curia: Nicola Bux and the Anglo-German Uwe Michael Lang. Then there is Valentino Miserarchs Grau, head of the pontifical institute of sacred music, one of whose indictments against modern musical disasters and in defense of Gregosian chant occupied an entire page of “L’Osservatore.”
The frequent use of interviews is another novelty introduced by Vian. One that made an impact was the interview with Metropolitan Cyril, the second in command of the Russian Orthodox Church, who was unusually gracious toward the Church of Rome. Also surprising was the first page commentary entrusted to the French Protestant Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of the Conference of European Churches, on the eve of the consistory of cardinals on the very topic of ecumenism. Other articles have been written by representatives of the Orthodox Churches. And the honor of the front page has gone even to one ecumenical personality: Brother Alois Loser, prior of the community of Taizé.
The secretariat of state provides “L’Osservatore” with the official statements and the pope’s texts. In this, the journal has authority: an appointment, for example, becomes official when it is printed. But otherwise “L’Osservatore” lives autonomously. The person responsible for the articles is the director, who is not at all required to have them inspected before they are printed.
But the established practice is that the secretariat of state has a say in the articles that deal with sensitive topics: the Middle East, nuclear weapons, China, Islam. It can happen that texts are blocked or rewritten. One result of this collective effort has been, for example, the way in which “L’Osservatore” covered the visit of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to the Vatican. Next to the photo of the king with the pope, beneath the title “Under the banner of dialogue and collaboration,” the dominant article on the front page dealt with the request of the Vatican’s representative at the UN for “a new resolution on religious freedom,” with a title stretching across four columns: “The credibility of the United Nations depends on tangible respect for human rights.” He who has ears to hear, let him hear.