Vatican Reveals Full Text of Benedict XVI’s Letter to Msgr. Viganò

The Vatican released on Saturday the full text of Benedict XVI's letter to Msgr. Vigano showing that two paragraphs were concealed. The Vatican said it had no intention to censor the letter but chose to leave out parts of it as the letter was confidential. The story as it developed.

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See updates to this report below: 

March 13: The Holy See has yet to release the full text of the letter Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sent to Msgr. Dario Vigano, the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, on 11 short books on The Theology of Pope Francis, but it has now been published this afternoon by Sandro Magister on his blog, Settimo Cielo. (It later emerged this was not the full text which the Vatican eventually published on March 17 — see details below). 

In the letter dated Feb. 7 and written in response to a request from Msgr. Viganò on Jan. 12, Benedict praises the initiative, saying the books oppose and react to a “foolish prejudice” in which Francis is “just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation, while I have been only a theorist of theology with little understanding of the concrete life of a Christian today.” 

He also says the books “show, rightly, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help to see the inner continuity between the two pontificates, despite all the differences of style and temperament.”

But in the paragraph at the end, Benedict admits to not having fully read the 11 volumes due to “physical reasons” and other commitments.

It’s not clear why the Vatican did not publish the full text but only an obscure photo of the first page, with the final paragraph covered by the 11 books and Benedict's signature at the bottom (see above), although Msgr. Viganò did read out the full text of the letter at yesterday's presentation (it later turned out not to be the full text as a second missing and crucial paragraph was also omitted from Msgr. Vigano's presentation — see below). 

The Register contacted Benedict XVI's secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein yesterday for clarification of the letter and to explain what “inner continuity” means but he has not responded. 

Here below is the full text (my translation):

***

Most Reverend Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò 
Prefect, Secretariat for Communication

Vatican City 


February 7, 2018

 

Most Reverend Monsignor;

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

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

The small volumes show, rightly, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help to see the inner continuity between the two pontificates, despite all the differences of style and temperament.

However, I don’t feel like writing a short and dense theological passage on them because throughout my life it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only on books I had read really well. Unfortunately, if only for physical reasons, I am unable to read the eleven volumes in the near future, especially as other commitments await me that I have already made.

I am sure you will understand and cordially greet you.

 

Yours,

Benedict XVI

***

UPDATE March 14: 

Quoting an anonymous Vatican spokesman, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Vatican admitted to having “altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis.” The AP added that the “manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

The report said that the Vatican admitted to blurring “the two final lines of the first page” where Benedict explains that he “didn't actually read the books in question” and “cannot contribute a theological assessment of Francis” as he had other commitments.

The AP added: “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.”

AP’s report continued that the missing content “significantly altered the meaning of the quotes the Vatican chose to highlight, which were widely picked up by the media.” The suggestion given was that Benedict “had read the volume, agreed with it and given it his full endorsement and assessment,” it said.

The news agency said the doctoring was “significant” because news media “rely on Vatican photographers for images of the Pope at events that are closed to independent media.”

The AP made the point that as with most independent news media, it follows “strict standards that forbid digital manipulation of photos” and that “no element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph.” 

This episode is particularly embarrassing for the Vatican, coming barely a month since it issued Pope Francis’ message for this year’s World of Social Communications in which the Holy Father called for a “journalism of peace” in an era of “fake news.”

***

UPDATE March 14:

The Register contacted Msgr. Vigano’s office this morning to ask if we could publish the letter that he had sent to Benedict XVI on Jan. 12, in which he asked the Pope emeritus to write about the book series.

A secretary to Msgr. Vigano responded by saying “we have a picture of the letter. You will find it attached [it was the doctored photo of Benedict's letter, published above], together with a shot that shows Msgr. Viganò at the moment he read it during the conference on Monday.”

When we followed up, restating we were requesting a copy of the letter Msgr. Vigano sent and not the one sent by the Pope emeritus, we received no response. 

***

UPDATE March 17:

The Vatican released the following statement this afternoon (my translation), only sending it to accredited journalists and not publishing it in its daily bulletin: 

"On the occasion of the presentation of the series The Theology of Pope Francis, published by the Vatican Publishing House on March 12, a letter was published by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Much controversy followed about an alleged censorial manipulation of photography distributed as a photographic handout. 

What was read out from the letter, which was confidential, was considered appropriate and related to the sole initiative, and in particular to what the Pope Emeritus says about the philosophical and theological formation of the present Pontiff and the inner union between the two pontificates, leaving out some notes regarding contributors to the series.

The choice was motivated by confidentiality and not by any intention to censor. In order to dispel any doubts, it was therefore decided to make the letter public in its entirety [see the full contents of the letter, released March 17, here]."

Earlier today Vaticanista Sandro Magister revealed there was more to the letter which was neither read out, nor published in the Vatican's press release. 

The second missing paragraph which comes at the end of letter reads (my translation):

“Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had distinguished himself by leading anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the “Kölner Erklärung”, which, in relation to the encyclical “Veritatis splendor”, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the “Europaische Theologengesellschaft”, which he founded, was initially conceived by him as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, allowing that organization to become a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.”

According to Magister, Hünermann was an "implacable critic both of John Paul II and of Joseph Ratzinger himself as theologian and as pope." A professor at the university of Tubingen, Magister said "he is the author of, among other things, a commentary on Vatican Council II that is the polar opposite of the Ratzingerian interpretation."

UPDATE March 17:

The letter in full:

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 12 January and the attached gift of the eleven small volumes edited by Roberto Repole.

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

The small volumes show, rightly, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help to see the inner continuity between the two pontificates, despite all the differences of style and temperament.

However, I don’t feel like writing a short and dense theological passage on them because throughout my life it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only on books I had read really well. Unfortunately, if only for physical reasons, I am unable to read the eleven volumes in the near future, especially as other commitments await me that I have already made.

Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had distinguished himself by leading anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the “Kölner Erklärung”, which, in relation to the encyclical “Veritatis splendor”, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the “Europaische Theologengesellschaft”, which he founded, was initially conceived by him as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, allowing that organization to become a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.

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

Yours,

Benedict XVI