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‘Fake news’ treatment of Pope Benedict letter about Francis ‘made a mess’: New book

The Vatican official behind the 'Lettergate' controversy, which involved doctoring a photo, 'made a mess' and 'caused problems,' according to Abp. Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Benedict.
Fri Oct 25, 2019 - 6:20 pm EST
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Archbishop Georg Gänswein, July 15, 2017. EWTN katholisches TV / Youtube

ROME, October 25, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, told the top Vatican official behind the 2018 “Lettergate” controversy — in which the Vatican was caught doctoring a key letter from Benedict on Pope Francis — that the official had “made a mess” and “caused problems,” a new book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi claims.

Published on Tuesday, Nuzzi’s new book, Last Judgment: Pope Francis’s final battle to save the Church from bankruptcy, provides a glimpse into frustration over Pope Francis’s policies at the highest levels of the Church. In his book, Nuzzi released an exchange of messages attributed to Archbishop Gänswein and Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, erstwhile prefect of the Congregation for Communication, regarding a roiling controversy of 2018 that became known as “Lettergate.”

“Dear Dario,” the message from Gänswein read, “unfortunately you have made a mess. I am sorry, GG.” In response, Viganò wrote: “But how? I read the piece that we had agreed upon in the exercises. In fact, this shows how these people do not like Benedict and use him like a flag. I am sorry you think this way. We have done some good things together and have shared tasks. Why are you saying this to me? Anyway, I’m now on my way to the airport, but I return tomorrow and we can talk if you like. D.” Gänswein responded, “We’ll talk. The ‘manipulation’ of the photo of the letter has caused problems. This was not agreed upon. Have a good trip, until tomorrow. GG.”

As part of the presentation of a new 11-booklet series titled The Theology of Pope Francis, Viganò read aloud at a press conference in March 2018 a private letter from Benedict that called Francis “a man of deep philosophical and theological formation” and that Benedict said showed “the interior continuity” between the two pontificates, “although with all the differences of style and temperament.”

A press release omitted a part of the letter in which Benedict declined to add an introduction to the booklets, and a photo of the letter handed out to the media obscured the second paragraph. A controversy ensued, in which the Vatican was accused of disseminating “fake news” and Viganò of circulating only praise for Pope Francis. The Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications subsequently confirmed that a significant part of a private personal letter from Benedict to Viganò had been left out of the press release.

The Vatican also confirmed that the photo of the letter had indeed been altered.

In the complete version of the letter, Benedict declined Viganò’s request for an introduction to the booklets because he had not actually read them and would not do so because of “physical reasons” and more pressing commitments. Also, Benedict expressed “surprise” that the work of a theologian known for “spearheading anti-papal efforts” against himself and Pope John Paul II “on issues of moral theology” was a featured contributor to the booklets.

Journalist Nuzzi’s new book offers the messages that resulted between Gänswein and Viganò in the wake of Lettergate, which National Catholic Register correspondent Edward Pentin characterized as an example of “a continual stream of deceptions, manipulations and scandals coming from the Vatican under Pope Francis.” 

In a note to Pope Francis and the Vatican secretary of state, Viganò wrote at the time to say he had read Benedict’s letter “in the manner agreed upon” with Gänswein. He added, “It is evident that if Your Excellency had intervened in order to explain that there had been no falsification, the case would have been closed.”

Within days, Viganò resigned his post, telling Pope Francis in a letter that the Lettergate controversy had destabilized “the complex and great work of reform that you have entrusted to me.”

According to Il Fatto Quotidiano, Nuzzi tried to give the first copy of The Last Judgment to the promoter of justice of the Holy See to determine whether the book reveals evidence of a criminal nature. In 2015, Nuzzi faced court proceedings at the Vatican, as did colleague Emiliano Fittipaldi, because they had published confidential documents of the Holy See. After nine months of trial, both were acquitted for lack of jurisdiction. There are rumors in Rome, reported Il Fatto Quotidiano, that the release of the book may bring about a diplomatic squabble between the Italian government and the Holy See. The book also indicates the serious concerns within the Vatican over Church finances, as well as discussions about selling real estate and other Vatican properties.


  benedict xvi, catholic, dario vigano, georg ganswein, gianluigi nuzzi, joseph ratzinger, lettergate, pope francis

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