Spanish journalist-psychiatrist was by Pope John Paul II's side for 20 years
One of the most familiar faces in the Vatican over the past several decades, former papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, has died at the age of 80.
His death was announced in a tweet by the current director of the Vatican press office, Greg Burke. Navarro-Valls passed away at 8:41 Wednesday evening at home after being discharged from the Opus Dei-run Campus Biomedico hospital in Rome, according to the National Catholic Register. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer some weeks ago.
Navarro-Valls was a Spanish journalist, psychiatrist and academic who served as the director of the Holy See Press Office from 1984 to 2006—most of that time under Pope St. John Paul II. His background in journalism helped him relate to reporters all over the world, while his training in medicine aided him in communicating the state of John Paul’s declining health in his last year.
Navarro-Valls continued in his position for almost two years under John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, but he resigned in July 2006. Since 2007, he served as president of the board of advisers of the Biomedical University of Rome.
Born in Cartagena, Spain, Nov. 16, 1936, Navarro-Valls was one of five children. He studied medicine at the Universities of Granada and Barcelona, as well as journalism at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. In his university years, he took an interest in acting.
He also took post-graduate courses at Harvard. His doctoral dissertation was about psychiatric disorders in cranial traumas.
Navarro-Valls served as a doctor in the Spanish Navy in the early 1960s.
In 1958, he met the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría Escrivá, and joined what would one day be designated a personal prelature. Navarro-Valls was a numerary, or consecrated member. He moved to Opus Dei’s headquarters in Rome in 1970, and collaborated with St. Josemaria in the work of communications. In this position, he announced the death of the founder on June 26, 1975.
In 1977, he became a correspondent for the Madrid newspaper ABC, covering Italy and the eastern Mediterranean. He was frequently sent as a correspondent to Japan, the Philippines, and equatorial Africa.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II called him to reorganize and direct the Vatican press office. Navarro-Valls became the first non-cleric to be appointed as director of the Vatican Press Office. In addition to his duties as spokesman, he was a member of the Holy See delegation to the international conferences of the UN in Cairo, Copenhagen, Beijing, and Istanbul from 1994–96.
In 1996, he began to teach as a visiting professor at the faculty of institutional communication at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.
An author of books on the family and fluent in several languages, he traveled with St. John Paul on almost all his apostolic journeys.
According to Catholic News Service, in 1992 he overhauled the Vatican press office with modernized facilities and revolutionized the distribution of material by making archives, documents and statistics concerning the pope’s activity available online.
In a statement to Catholic News Service, Greg Burke said his predecessor “always behaved like a Christian gentleman.”
“Joaquin Navarro embodied what Ernest Hemingway defined as courage: grace under pressure,” Burke said. I got to know Navarro when I was working for Time, and the magazine named John Paul II Man of the Year. I expected to find a man of faith, but I found a man of faith who was also a first-class professional.”