Vatican Returns Sandro Magister's Press Credentials

In a letter stamped with the official Jubilee of Mercy theme “Misericordes sicut Pater” [Merciful Like the Father], the Holy See has returned veteran Vaticanist Sandro Magister’s press credentials after they were suspended in June.

In a short message dated Dec. 9, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi wrote: “I am pleased to inform you that from today the period of suspension of your accreditation at our Press Office is considered concluded, so it will be possible to resume benefiting from our services.”

Father Lombardi added that “together with my colleagues, I warmly wish you good work and all the best in this time of waiting for Christmas.” Magister published the letter on his Settimo Cielo blog Dec. 21.

The Vatican took the unusual step of indefinitely revoking Magister’s accreditation June 15 after the Italian Vaticanist published a leaked draft of Pope Francis’ environment encyclical Laudato Si in the Italian newspaper L’Espresso, three days before its official publication which the Vatican had unusually publicized in advance.

Father Lombardi wrote that publishing the draft was an “obviously inappropriate initiative” that had been a source of “major inconvenience” for other journalists and had caused “serious disruption”.

While many agreed with Father Lombardi’s decision, viewing the publication as a breach of normal journalistic standards at the Vatican, many others from different sides of the Catholic spectrum saw it as an error of judgment.

They pointed out that Magister hadn’t broken the embargo on the text because he had published a draft, not the final version, and that he had obtained it from an unofficial source, probably curial, who had imposed no restrictions on its use.

Others argued if anyone should be punished, it was the person who leaked it. “Magister didn't commit any journalistic sin,” wrote Grant Gallicho in Commonweal. “He got a legitimate scoop.”

Magister, a highly respected Vaticanist who has covered the Holy See for almost half a century, also told The Associated Press that his editor, not he, obtained the document and decided to publish it. Magister said he had just written a brief introduction to the draft in L’Espresso.  

One Vatican source said the incident showed heavy handedness on a soft target who has been praised for his critical analysis of the Vatican, and he doubted if the same treatment would have been meted out to a correspondent working for one of the large news agencies such the AP or Reuters

Father Lombardi’s decision to return Magister’s credentials during the Jubilee Year is timely and undoubtedly meant as an example of mercy and in the spirit of Christmas.

It came just days after Aleteia’s English language Rome correspondent, Diane Montagna, asked the Jesuit spokesman at a Dec. 4 press conference on the opening of the Holy Year and the Holy Door "if there will be mercy for our colleague Sandro Magister, so that he can enter into this door [of the Holy See Press Office]." Father Lombardi simply responded with the word: “Vedremo” – we’ll see.

But the restoring of Magister’s credentials also comes at a time when the Vatican is under fire for its treatment of two Italian journalists being controversially tried in a Vatican court for allegedly pressuring Vatican officials to leak confidential Holy See documents. The decision to prosecute them is likewise seen as heavy handedness but also connected with a new law introduced by Pope Francis in 2013 that made the stealing and leaking of Vatican documents a crime.

It also follows the leaking of a private and confidential letter to Pope Francis during the last synod, in which 13 cardinal synod fathers expressed some concerns about the meeting. 

But unlike the other cases, no journalist has been reproved for initially publishing that letter, nor is any investigation being conducted into how it came to be made public. This is despite the office of Cardinal George Pell, who was one of the letter’s main signatories, saying that “certainly leaks like this should be investigated with the same rigor as other leaks.”

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