Vatican sparks row over Benedict XVI letter

What happened?

A letter from Benedict XVI turned out to have been manipulated by Vatican officials. Mgr Dario Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, launched an 11-booklet series on Pope Francis by quoting Benedict as saying the collection showed “continuity” between him and Francis. The Vatican then admitted it had concealed the rest of the letter – even blurring the official photo – in which Benedict refused to write a preface to the series and criticised the choice of authors.

What the media said

At first, the headlines hailed the letter as a great endorsement of Pope Francis: “On anniversary, Pope’s predecessor hits out at conservatives’ ‘stupid prejudice’,” said Reuters. But the revelations about the letter led to a change of tone.

At Vox.com, Tara Isabella Burton noted that “Pope Francis warned against the ‘crafty serpent’ of fake news last month. He called it a ‘sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes’ and said it ‘leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred’. But this month, ‘fake news’ has reached the Vatican door.” Burton said that “While the blurring of Benedict’s caveat doesn’t totally change the tenor of the letter, it does significantly undercut the degree to which the letter should be read as unambiguous praise for Francis’s papacy.”

What Catholic media said

At catholicculture.org, Philip Lawler said the Vatican’s tactics had backfired, especially when Benedict criticised an author, Peter Hünermann, selected as an interpreter of Francis’s work. “The Vatican had introduced the letter from Benedict in an effort to show continuity in papal teaching; in fact, when the dust settled, the former pontiff’s letter pointed to the clear discontinuity.”

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