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Vatican admits doctoring photo of Benedict’s letter praising Pope Francis

Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane

VATICAN, March 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — One of the world’s leading news agencies has said the Vatican breached journalistic standards by doctoring a photo of a letter from Benedict XVI praising Pope Francis. According to the Associated Press, the doctoring affected the meaning of the letter.

The AP has reported the Vatican admitted on Wednesday that it digitally manipulated a photo sent out to media outlets to rebut critics of Pope Francis, who believe some aspects of his teaching represent a rupture with Pope Benedict’s, and with the Tradition of the Church.

On Monday, the eve of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications released the photo of a thank you letter Benedict XVI had written to the head of Vatican communications, Monsignor Dario Viganò, for the gift of an 11 volume set on the theology of Pope Francis. 

At the press conference to launch the book project, Msgr. Viganò cited a portion of the letter that is legible in the photo, in which Benedict says he applauds the new volumes which are intended to oppose the “foolish prejudice” that paints Pope Francis only as  “a practical man without any particular theological or philosophical training,” and Pope Benedict as “only a theorist of theology who has little understanding of the concrete life of a Christian today.”

Benedict also said the book project “helps to show the interior continuity between the two pontificates, although with all the differences in style and temperament.”

But the attempt seems to have backfired, with the Vatican admitting on Wednesday that it blurred the final two lines of the first page, where Benedict begins to explain that he didn’t actually read the books in question.

On the second page of the letter, which is not visible in the photo, the Pope emeritus goes on to explain that he cannot contribute a theological assessment of Francis as requested by Viganò due to “physical reasons” and because he is occupied with other projects.

The Vatican offered no explanation as to why it blurred the lines, except to say it never intended for the full letter to be released. In fact, the entire second page of the letter is covered by a stack of books in the photo, with just Benedict’s tiny signature showing, apparently to prove its authenticity.

Associated Press journalist Nicole Winfield said that the missing content “significantly altered the meaning of the quotes the Vatican chose to highlight, which were widely picked up by the media.”

“Those quotes suggested that Benedict had read the volume, agreed with it and given it his full endorsement and assessment. The doctoring of the photo is significant because news media rely on Vatican photographers for images of the pope at events that are closed to independent media,” she said.

It’s unclear why the Vatican did not publish the full text but only an altered photo of the first page, with the final paragraph on the second page covered by the 11 books and Benedict’s signature at the bottom. Msgr. Viganò did read out the full text of the letter at Monday’s presentation. Veteran Vaticanist Sandro Magister transcribed the portions Vigano had read and posted them on his blog on Tuesday. 

Regarding the doctored image, the Associated Press said that, like most media outlets, it follows strict standards that forbid digital manipulation of photos. AP standards dictate that “No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph.” 

In January, Pope Francis denounced “Fake News” in his Message for the 52nd World Day of Communications, saying it employs the same strategy as the snake in the Garden of Eden.

Here below is the full text of the letter as reported by Sandro Magister (the translation is mine). 

***

Benedictus XVI

Pope Emeritus

Most Reverend Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò

Prefect of the Secretariat for Communications

Vatican City

February 7, 2018

Most Reverend Monsignor,

Thank you for your kind letter of January 12 and for the attached gift of the eleven small volumes edited by Roberto Repole.

I applaud this initiative which is intended to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice that  Pope Francis is only a practical man without any special theological or philosophical training, while I have been only a theorist of theology with little understanding of the concrete life of a Christian today.

The small volumes demonstrate, rightly, that Pope Francis is a man of deep philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help to show the interior continuity between the two pontificates, although with all the differences of style and temperament. 

However, I do not feel I can write a brief and dense theological page on them, because throughout my entire life it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only about books that I had also truly read. Unfortunately, for physical reasons alone, I am unable to read the eleven little volumes in the near future, but all the more so as other commitments that I have already undertaken await me.

I am sure you will understand and I offer you cordial greetings.

Yours,

Benedict XVI



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