Vatican Fraudulently Alters Testimony
The headline from RNS concerning a story released by the Associated Press: “Vatican doctors photo of Benedict’s praise for Francis.” Of late, Pope Francis has been getting attacked from all sides. Much of the criticism involves the Church’s child abuse crisis, but other matters, like his failure to mention the Rohingya genocide when meeting with Myanmar’s leaders, have also sparked criticism. Furthermore, a group of cardinals has openly questioned his major theological pronouncement, the Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia).
The Vatican recently tried to defend the pope’s theology. Rather than answer the questions raised by conservative cardinals, the Vatican asked Pope Benedict, still a favorite of the conservatives, to write a letter praising a new collection of Francis’ theological works. Pope Benedict grudgingly agreed. The Vatican’s chief of communications, Monsignor Dario Vigano, then used this letter “to rebut critics of Francis who question his theological and philosophical heft.” Vigano distributed large copies of a photograph of the letter.
But Pope Benedict, who considers himself a scholar, was unwilling to compromise his integrity for the sake of Pope Francis. While his letter attacked the “foolish prejudice” of some of Pope Francis’ critics, and stressed “the interior continuity” between Pope Francis’ doctrines and his own, his endorsement was at best luke-warm. As the Associated Press noted, “the two final lines of the first page [said] … that he didn’t actually read the books in question.”
Faced with this disturbing testimony, the Vatican simply rendered those two lines illegible by digitally blurring them. As RNS points out, this violates ethical standards, which prohibit the manipulation of photos: “ ‘No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph,’ read the AP norms, which are considered to be the industry standard.” According to the spirit of the law, this is fraud.
What did Pope Benedict Really say about Pope Francis?
Benedict wrote a two page letter. The Vatican photograph hid the second page: “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.” This was no accidental omission.
While the Vatican “suggested that Benedict had read the volume, agreed with it and given it his full endorsement and assessment,” in fact Pope Benedict said “he cannot contribute a theological assessment of Francis as requested by Vigano because he has other projects to do.” The Vatican initially refused to release the complete text of Pope Benedict’s letters.
But a follow-up report by the AP says that “A Twitter hashtag #releasetheletter went viral among Catholic conservatives as the scandal widened…. The Secretariat for Communication, in particular, was accused of spreading ‘fake news.’” Apparently, copies of the letter had been leaked, and the Vatican could no longer issue denials and misrepresentations. They reluctantly released the text.
It turns out that Pope Benedict was actually critical of Pope Francis’ theological works. NCR had more complete coverage (here):
At the end of the letter, previously withheld from the media, the retired pope says he wants to note his "surprise" that one of 11 volumes in "The Theology of Pope Francis" series had been authored by noted German theologian Fr. Peter Hünermann.
Benedict claims that during his 2005-13 papacy Hünermann "led anti-papal initiatives." He also says criticisms the theologian made of Pope John Paul II's 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor "attacked in a virulent way the magisterial authority of the Pope especially on questions of moral theology."
It turns out that some of Pope Francis’ theology was actually written by one of Benedict’s enemies. The Vatican added insult to injury by asking Pope Benedict to endorse it. This was more than Benedict could tolerate, and he counter-attacked.
The Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication originally said they suppressed Pope Benedict’s response for reasons of “confidentiality and not by any intent of censorship.” This is obviously yet another lie.
This is a relatively small matter. The vast majority of Catholics neither know nor care much about Pope Francis’ theology. But it illustrative. The Vatican did far worse in covering up Church crimes involving the sexual abuse of children. The major difference is that no group in the Church hierarchy opposed it. Legal authorities had to struggle to pry some of the facts out.
This is part of ancient Church tradition. Some time after the death of Emperor Constantine, the pope forged the "Donation of Constantine," which claimed that the emperor bequeathed much of the Empire to the papacy, much as he had done during his lifetime. This was perhaps the single greatest act of fraud in history. However, it was done incompetently, and the forgery became apparent. But larceny and disdain for the truth are very ancient Church traditions, and the Church is a great upholder of tradition.