Popes as Public Diplomats: A Longitudinal Analysis of the Vatican’s Foreign Engagement and Storytelling
This study explores the duality of Vatican public relations by contextualizing the papacy as a hybrid political and religious office. It analyzes papal speeches since the Vatican II Council to understand the engagement practices and strategic narratives employed during trips abroad. Descriptive statistics of 1,307 speeches spanning 114 countries were analyzed, while textual analysis was conducted on 120 systematically sampled speeches. Overall, papal rhetoric has changed minimally since 1964, highlighting key Catholic social teaching through narrative continuity. This helps to establish the Vatican’s moral legitimacy and build stronger, long-term relationships between publics and Catholicism, as an object of devotion. While its content strategy has changed marginally, the papacy’s travel and audience selection tactics have evolved to be more focused on everyday publics and interfaith relationship-building. This personifies the pope as the Vatican’s primary public diplomat in the modern era and expands scholarship on storytelling at the intersection of public relations and religion.