The habit is well established, so much so that precision seems superfluous to many. “Of course, it’s off. “ By addressing this warning to you in Italian, English or French, your interlocutor at the Curia wants to make sure of one thing: the journalist that you are will not quote him by name. And his name will never appear in your article. The range is wide: it can be a theologian, an expert, an office manager or a cardinal, a man or a woman, a layman or a religious person. And this is how the articles flourish “Good connoisseurs of a file”, “Entourage of Cardinal So-and-so” or even “Observers of the Curia”.
This use is, of course, a way of preserving a form of freedom of speech, in a world where everyone’s words are scrutinized, and where speaking to journalists is not frankly well received. Not only must the slightest quote with a first and last name be proofread and validated by superiors, but also, almost systematically, the very act of speaking to a journalist must be allowed. It is also sometimes for the people who speak to you a way of protecting themselves from the pressures which could arise, from inside the Vatican as well as from outside.
But the predominance of the “off” is also the sign that the Curia is indeed a place of power, as are the political bodies or the institutions which also have the same use vis-à-vis journalists. In the Vatican, the hierarchical chains are strong, the members of the Curia relatively few in number, and the culture of secrecy is omnipresent. It has always been understood as a guarantee of being able to successfully complete current issues. Without external disturbances.