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Vatican expert Phil Pullella leaves Reuters after more than 40 years

Reuters legendary papal correspondent, Phil Pullella, is leaving the agency after more than 40 years of covering three popes, Vatican intrigues and complex Roman Catholic dogma.


Editor-in-chief Alessandra Galloni announced Pullella’s departure in a note to staff which said he had written some of the finest prose on the Reuters wire as he chased popes around the world and reported daily from the Vatican.


Pullella secured two extremely unusual face-to-face interviews with Pope Francis who, Galloni said, asked on a recent papal flight, “Is Pullella here?” before joking “Oh yes, now I see the airport runway,” a reference to Phil’s bald pate.


“In a secretive institution that has befuddled generations of journalists, Phil thrived,” Galloni wrote. “He is renowned for his insight, unmatched sourcing and his peerless ability to interpret papal-speak, regularly spotting significant news in impenetrable documents or long homilies.”


Pullella was one of the most travelled correspondents in Reuters history after following three popes on 140 foreign trips that took him to 137 nations, including every country in Latin America, almost all of Europe and half of Africa’s 54 countries. He covered the Vatican for UPI before joining Reuters in 1983, making him one of the agency’s longest serving correspondents.


Known affectionately as Pippo, Pullella covered Italy as well as the Vatican for many years and was a highly competitive and competent slot man, using his fluent Italian and the street skills he learned growing up in a tough New York neighbourhood. He moved to the United States from Calabria with his parents as a small child and, as a Reuters correspondent, distinguished himself with sensitive and insightful reporting on southern Italy, organised crime and Italian culture.


He sometimes riled other Vaticanisti with his uncompromising commitment to agency competitiveness when they wanted to agree on the best angle in a story before they filed or delay their dispatches.


When Pullella insisted on running into a phone box to file when the papal flight returning from a trip to India was diverted to Naples because of a snowstorm, an incensed Italian reporter unsuccessfully tried to stop him by aiming punches through the door of the booth.


Galloni ended her tribute: “In short, Phil embodies so many of Reuters strengths: an expert journalist esteemed by his audience, rivals and subjects. Please join me in wishing him the best in his next adventures.”


The note made no mention of a replacement for Pullella in covering the Vatican.


PHOTO: Phil Pullella with Pope Francis ■