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Vatican ‘Lettergate’ controversy is ‘just the latest in steady stream of deceptions’

Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane

ROME, March 16, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The Viganò-Benedict ‘Lettergate’ scandal is just the latest in a steady stream of deceptions, manipulations and scandals that have plagued the present pontificate, according to Vatican journalist Edward Pentin.

In an article that circled the globe today, the respected Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register said: “Increasing numbers of faithful Catholics are becoming alarmed and increasingly angry by what they see as a continual stream of deceptions, manipulations and scandals coming from the Vatican under Pope Francis.”  

The focus of Pentin’s comments is a controversy in which the Vatican communications office has been enmeshed for the past week.

‘Lettergate’

On Monday, the head of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications, Monsignor Dario Viganò, moderated a presentation of an 11-booklet series of musings by 11 commentators on “The Theology of Pope Francis.”

The event took place to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election.

At the press conference, Viganò read out a private letter that Benedict XVI had sent to him in response to his request that the Pope emeritus write a “dense theological” introduction to the 11-booklet series. 

Benedict praised the book project whose aim, he said, was to oppose “the foolish prejudice” that paints Pope Francis as “only a practical man” bereft of any special theological or philosophical training, and Benedict as only “a theorist of theology” out of touch with the concrete lives of Christians. 

He also said the book project demonstrates that Francis is “a man of deep philosophical and theological formation.” Benedict added that the 11-booklet series helps to show “the interior continuity” between the two pontificates, “although with all the differences of style and temperament.”

But a press release handed out to journalists at the event omitted the rest of the letter, in which Benedict declined Viganò’s request that he write a theological introduction. The Pope emeritus said he couldn’t because he hadn’t actually read the booklets and would not be able to do so, due to “physical reasons” and other more pressing commitments. (Normally an electronic or hard copy of full texts are provided to Vatican-accredited journalists.)

Furthermore, in the one publicity photo sent out to media, the first page of Benedict’s letter is featured lying on a table, but the first lines of the second paragraph are blurred to the point of being illegible, apparently in order to emphasize the first paragraph. The second page, with the exception of Benedict’s signature, is covered by a stack of the the 11 volume series.

On Tuesday, however, veteran Vaticanist Sandro Magister, who recorded Viganò reading the letter aloud, published the full text on his blog.

On Wednesday, Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reported that the Vatican admitted to digitally altering the photo. The doctoring affected the meaning of the letter and breached international journalistic standards, Winfield said.

Today, in a Reuters article, the National Catholic Register’s Edward Pentin said this is “just the latest in a continual stream of deceptions, manipulations and scandals coming from the Vatican” and dubbed the whole episode the Vatican’s “Lettergate.” The name evokes the “Vatileaks” scandal of 2012, when Pope Benedict’s personal butler stole some of the pontiff’s personal letters and leaked them to the media.

Asked what particular “deceptions, manipulations and scandals” he was referring to, Pentin told LifeSite: “To name just a few: the shenanigans at the family synods, the Barros affair, deceptive footnotes in Amoris Laetitia, the ‘impromptu’ papal wedding that had actually been planned, secret commissions that dicastery heads are unaware of, and the cover ups of scandals."

“The list goes on. Equally distressing for many of the faithful is that little or no action is taken against those deemed culpable,” he said.

Violation of privacy?

In an editorial that appeared today in the Italian Catholic site, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Riccardo Cascioli said Viganò’s “dishonesty” has gone so far as to present “a personal letter declining a request” as a “celebratory letter” addressed to the public “written for the fifth anniversary Francis’ election.”

“I repeat, a personal letter (‘personal’ and ‘confidential’ was written on the envelope containing the letter), that as such was to remain private. Its publication is a clear violation of privacy, a theft,” he said.

Cascioli continued: “In a normal world the person responsible for these shenanigans — right when the Pope has sent a message to the whole world denouncing Fake News and the manufacturers of manipulated news — wouldn’t remain in place one more minute, if for no other reason than to restore credibility to the Holy See’s entire communications apparatus.” 

Some in the Spanish media are already calling for Viganò’s resignation, Cascioli said. But he added that “in the Vatican things move differently.” 

What counts more than public acts are the internal wars among the “guardians of the revolution,” he said.

“There probably won’t be any consequences,” Edward Pentin told EWTN’s News Nightly on Thursday. “There have been a lot of deceptions over the past five years in various and different ways, but nobody’s been held accountable and that will probably be the same in this case.” 

Reuters said Msgr. Viganò had no comment.

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