Vatican Communication Office Altered Photo of Benedict’s Comments on Francis

Portions of a letter written by Benedict XVI regarding Pope Francis’ philosophical and theological formation were blurred, the AP reported.

Monsignor Dario Viganò, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication
Monsignor Dario Viganò, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican office has acknowledged blurring portions of a letter written by Benedict XVI regarding Pope Francis’ philosophical and theological formation, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The Secretariat for Communication released the photo March 12, along with a press release announcing a “personal letter of Benedict XVI on his continuity with the pontificate of Pope Francis.”

Altered photo of a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, released March 12 by Vatican Secretariat of Communications. Credit: Vatican Media

The AP’s Nicole Winfield wrote March 14 that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

Winfield added: “The Vatican admitted Thursday [sic] that it blurred the two final lines of the first page. … The Vatican didn’t explain why it blurred the lines other than to say it never intended for the full letter to be released. In fact, the entire second page of the letter is covered in the photo by a stack of books, with just Benedict’s tiny signature showing, to prove its authenticity.”

The full text of the letter was published March 13 by Sandro Magister, an Italian journalist who has long followed the Vatican.

The text shows that Benedict’s letter, dated Feb. 7, was written to acknowledge receipt of the gift of a series of 11 volumes on The Theology of Pope Francis and to respond to a request that the pope emeritus write a theological reflection on the books.

The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the Secretariat.

“I applaud this initiative, which is intended to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice according to which Pope Francis would be only a practical man devoid of particular theological or philosophical formation, while I would be solely a theoretician of theology who could understand little of the concrete life of a Christian today,” Benedict wrote.

“The little volumes demonstrate, rightly so, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help in seeing the interior continuity between the two pontificates, albeit with all the differences of style and temperament.”

The pope emeritus then added, “Nonetheless, I do not feel that I can write a brief and dense theological page about them because for my whole life it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only on books that I had also truly read. Unfortunately, even if only for physical reasons, I am not able to read the eleven little volumes in the near future, all the more so in that I am under other obligations to which I have already agreed. I am sure that you will understand, and I extend to you my cordial greeting.”

Though it was written in early February, the letter was not released by the Secretariat for Communications until mid-March, when the book series was released, on the eve of the anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as Bishop of Rome.

The secretariat’s press release quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but did not include Benedict’s admission that he has not read them in full.

The letter was presented at a news conference announcing the series of booklets on Pope Francis’ theology.

The prefect of the communications secretariat, Msgr. Dario Viganò, read portions of Benedict’s letter at the news conference, “including the lines that were blurred out,” the AP reports. The portion of the letter that was blurred out is the beginning of Benedict’s explanation that he has not in fact read all the volumes that were sent him.

Msgr. Viganò, who was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan, has been prefect of the Secretariat for Communication since that office was established in June 2015.

The secretariat was formed as part of Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman Curia and is meant to consolidate the Vatican’s media arms and to increase their presence among digital platforms.

The secretariat oversees all of the Vatican’s communications offices, including Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Television Center, the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Internet Service, the Vatican Typography Office, the Vatican’s Photography Service, and Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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