God will be right backafter this commercial message.
Vatican Radio,the official voice of the Roman Catholic Church,has begun airing advertisements for the first time in its nearly 80-year history,injecting a bit of the profane into its otherwise unwavering lineup of sacred programming.
Now,in addition to tracking every move Benedict XVI makes and every word he utters,listeners are being treated to 45-second ads,made in five languages,extolling Italys largest power company,Enel,and the virtues of clean energy.
The commercials are a reflection of economic reality. The Vatican is running an ungodly deficit of $22 million last year.
The urge to erase some of that debt made Vatican Radio a tempting target for pontifical fundraising. The radio service,which broadcasts around the world and on the Web in more than 40 languages,costs the Vatican about $31 million a year,and until now brought in zero revenue.
Its like having an 80-year-old child living at home all this time,and you say,Darling,we still love you,you can go on living here,were not going to kick you out,but it would be nice if you would contribute to paying the phone bill,the gas bill or something, said Sean-Patrick Lovett,director of Vatican Radios English and Italian sections.
The first commercial aired July 6. Only ads by Enel will be broadcast during an initial three-month trial period only four or five times a day.
Lovett acknowledged that advertising on the radio service is a tricky proposition,as listeners could be led to believe that a particular product or company enjoyed the official blessing of the Holy See. Lovett insists that ads marketing infallible laundry detergents etc.,would be frowned upon.
Whether the faithful will be upset by an apparent mixing of God and Mammon over the airwaves remains to be seen. Perhaps most of the flock will be as unfazed as Dan Nerney,from San Francisco,who stood on the sun-washed plaza recently,gazing at the Michelangelo-designed basilica. Nerney was in Italy on an Angels and Demons tour in homage to the novel about Vatican intrigue by Dan Brown,author also of The Da Vinci Code.
Im a Catholic,and it doesnt bother me, Nerney,49,said of the idea of ads on Vatican Radio.
Not that the radio spots alone can pluck the Vatican from financial trouble.
The revenue generated will be modest but should serve as a gesture to our superiors in the Vatican to say we recognise were growing up now and we want to make a contribution to the running costs, Lovett said.
Officials at Vatican Radio are keeping their ears cocked for feedback from listeners,aware of possible concerns that the ads are polluting the purity of a radio station that for 80 years has not had to answer to anyone, Lovett said.
But so far,he added,no one has screamed Heresy!