The Vatican today denounced efforts by publisher Rupert Murdoch to sell compilations of the writings of Pope John Paul II as an exclusive column being produced with papal collaboration.
The first such column appeared Sunday in newspapers in Spain and West Germany under the title "Observations of Pope John Paul II"; the New York Post published the column Monday. The Rev. Msgr. Giulio Nicolini, deputy spokesman for the Vatican, today termed "inadmissible" allegations the column was produced with Vatican consent and remuneration.
"It is inadmissible that the name of the holy father be used as a journalistic byline or involved in a commercial enterprise," he said. "The freedom to obtain papal speeches, documents or statements being open to all specifically excludes their exclusive acquisition by anyone."
The Vatican statement brought to a head a two-month-old controversy about a so-called papal "news column" that the Murdoch newspaper companies, News America and Times of London syndicate, began marketing last July despite Vatican denials that the pope was writing the column.
Vatican sources said the original idea of a column -- to be made up of previous papal statements and writings on secular issues -- had not displeased John Paul, who has tried to spread the message of the Roman Catholic Church by whatever means possible.
But an embarrassing dispute between two newspapers in Madrid -- the popular conservative daily ABC and Ya, widely considered to be the voice of the Spanish Catholic Church -- reportedly prompted the pope to reconsider the wisdom of letting his words be marketed to whatever newspapers were willing to pay the Murdoch syndicate for rights.
Last weekend, the initial papal column that had been bought by ABC disappeared from the printing room the night before publication. ABC managed to publish the column -- a duplicate was in its computer -- but the column was also published by Ya, which said that the pope's words were the property of everyone.
Today's Vatican statement also seemed to confirm -- as it sought to deny -- a Vatican role in dissemination of the columns.
In announcing the column last July, the founder of a company that acts as an intermediary between the Vatican and the publishing and news media, said arrangements for the column had been made with Cardinal Eduard Gagnon, the president of the Papal Commission on the Family, and Cardinal Alfons Strickler, who oversees the Vatican library. He said both Vatican bodies would receive an unspecified part of the royalties earned by the Murdoch syndicate for the column.
At the time, Nicolini called that announcement "something out of a fairy tale world. It doesn't even merit an official denial."
In his statement today, Nicolini insisted that neither cardinal had entered into any "agreements" with the newspaper syndicate for the column but that "they simply encouraged the dissemination of the papal words."
Vatican analysts here used to Vatican terminology said that the mere admission that the two cardinals "encouraged" the Murdoch column could be taken as a tacit admission that they had been involved with its inception.