Founded in 1861 as the Vatican’s paper of record, it still has to cover weighty theological issues and the Byzantine workings of the Roman Catholic Church. But it has also expanded into the world of popular culture, passing judgment on subjects varying from the Harry Potter films and the rock band U2 to the deaths of Michael Jackson and Paul Newman.
The paper, which is sold at news stands for one euro and has a modest circulation of about 15,000, has also started using color photographs for the first time. The makeover was ordered by Pope Benedict XVI, who – despite his rather austere image – has shown himself keen to explore new ways of spreading the Church’s message, including new technology.
Previously only of interest to devout Catholics and the cloistered residents of Vatican City, the newspaper has gone out of its way to explore subjects removed from its traditional patch.
Last month an editorial congratulated The Simpsons on the TV series’ 20th anniversary, even going so far as to praise its often irreverent take on religion.
Homer's religious confusion and ignorance were "a mirror of the indifference and the need that modern man feels toward faith," said the article, entitled "Aristotle's Virtues and Homer's Doughnut."
The radical change of tack was introduced in 2007, when Giovanni Maria Vian, a career journalist known to staff as "The Professor," was made editor-in-chief. “It used to be pretty indigestible,” says Francis X. Rocca, the long-time Vatican correspondent for the Washington-based Religion News Service.