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Pope Francis poses with Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, right, and deputy Vatican spokesperson Paloma Garcia Ovejero during a meeting at the Vatican in this undated photo.Vatican Media/Reuters

The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, and his deputy resigned abruptly Monday amid an overhaul of the Vatican’s communications operations and a crisis period in Pope Francis’s papacy.

The departures of Mr. Burke and his deputy, Paloma Garcia Ovejero, signalled that the problems associated with Francis’s reform of the Vatican bureaucracy had come to a head and at a very bad time: The Pope is struggling to address a global sex abuse and cover-up scandal that threatens his own legacy.

Francis nevertheless accepted the resignations, the Vatican said in a statement. He named a long-time member of the Vatican’s communications operations, Alessandro Gisotti, as an interim replacement for Mr. Burke.

“At this time of transition in Vatican communications, we think it’s best the Holy Father is completely free to assemble a new team,” Mr. Burke tweeted. “New Year, New Adventures.”

Mr. Burke stressed that he and Ms. Garcia Ovejero prayed about the decision “for months and we’re very much at peace with it.” The resignations take effect Tuesday. Both thanked the pope.

“One stage is ending. Thank you for these two and a half years,” Ms. Garcia Ovejero tweeted.

The Pope recently overhauled the Vatican’s media operations for the second time by ousting the long-time editor of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and naming a new director of editorial content for all Vatican media, Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.

Mr. Burke’s statement on Twitter that the immediate resignations were months in the making suggested they were not over the overhaul but a reflection of more deep-seated institutional problems.

The resignations appeared to take the new team by surprise, though the job of Vatican spokesman is notoriously difficult given the feudal nature of the Vatican, its reflexive tendency toward secrecy and the occasional skepticism of journalists.

The head of Vatican communications, Paolo Ruffini, said he respected Mr. Burke and Ms. Garcia Ovejero’s decision. He praised their professionalism and said he had full confidence in Mr. Gisotti, who was a long-time journalist with Vatican Radio and more recently worked as the Vatican’s head of social media.

“The year ahead is full of important appointments that will require maximum communications efforts,” Mr. Ruffini said in a statement.

The comment might have referred to a high-stakes summit on preventing clergy sex abuse that Francis convened for February, as well as the pope’s foreign trips planned for 2019: Panama, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bulgaria and Macedonia in the first half of the year, and rumoured trips to Madagascar and Japan in the second half.

Francis still faces continued fallout from the clergy abuse scandal, in Chile, the United States and beyond. The next year will likely see the outcome of a canonical investigation of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been accused of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians in the United States, as well as the results of the Vatican’s investigation of Mr. McCarrick’s rise through church ranks.

Long-time Vatican watcher Rocco Palmo tweeted that the standard rule in crisis communications is “you don’t leave in the middle of the storm but ride it out.

“To lose both the Vatican’s top press hands (both quite devout) in mid-scandal appears to signal that something has become professionally untenable,” Mr. Palmo tweeted.

Mr. Burke was a Fox TV correspondent in Rome when he was hired as a communications adviser for the Vatican’s secretariat of state in 2012. At the time, the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI had suffered a series of communications blunders, and it was thought that Burke could provide guidance.

In 2015, Mr. Burke was named deputy spokesman under the Rev. Federico Lombardi, an Italian Jesuit.

When Father Lombardi retired in 2016, Mr. Burke became main spokesman and was joined by Ms. Garcia Ovejero, the first woman to ever hold the position of deputy. Ms. Garcia Ovejero had been the Vatican correspondent for the Cadena Cope, the Spanish broadcaster.

The two had internationalized the media operations, organizing unofficial briefings with visiting prelates, providing background information and streamlining communications with journalists during foreign trips.

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