Vatican doctors photo of Benedict’s praise for Francis

In this photo of a letter released by Vatican Media, retired Pope Benedict XVI praises a volume of books about the theological training of Pope Francis. The Vatican admitted Thursday, March 14, 2018 that it blurred the final two lines of the letter's first page, where Benedict begins to acknowledge that he didn't read the books and doesn't have time to write a theological assessment of Francis as requested. (Vatican Media photo via AP)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican admitted Wednesday that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.

The Vatican's communications office released the photo of the letter on Monday on the eve of Francis' five-year anniversary. The letter was cited by Monsignor Dario Vigano, chief of communications, to rebut critics of Francis who question his theological and philosophical heft and say he represents a rupture from Benedict's doctrine-minded papacy.

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In the part of the letter that is legible in the photo, Benedict praised a new volume of books on the theology of Francis as evidence of the "foolish prejudice" of his critics. The book project, Benedict wrote, "helps to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, with all the differences in style and temperament."

The Vatican admitted to The Associated Press on Wednesday that it blurred the two final lines of the first page where Benedict begins to explain that he didn't actually read the books in question. He wrote that he cannot contribute a theological assessment of Francis as requested by Vigano because he has other projects to do.

A Vatican spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, didn't explain why the Holy See 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.

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 otherwise closed to independent media.

Vigano read parts of the letter during a press conference launching the volume, including the lines that were blurred out. A journalist who attended the presentation, Sandro Magister, transcribed Vigano's comments and posted them on his blog. But Vigano didn't read the whole letter. The Vatican didn't respond to a request to see the full text.

Most independent news media, including The Associated Press, follow strict standards that forbid digital 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 among news agencies.

Vigano heads the Vatican's new Secretariat for Communications, which has brought all Vatican media under one umbrella in a bid to reduce costs and improve efficiency, part of Francis' reform efforts. The office's recent message for the church's World Day of Social Communications denounced "fake news" as evil and urged media to seek the truth.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Christopher Lochner
2 months 1 week ago

It was very brave and honest of the editors to post this article on the site. I applaud your obvious integrity. Please, Lord, gather us together.

Carl Kuss
2 months 1 week ago

Blurring the two lines was not so much dishonest as clumsy--a clumsy way of acheiving a purpose which was basically justified.

The praise that Benedict gave to Francis and to his pontificate (the continuity) stands. He praises Francis, not the book, which he admits not to have read, (11 volumes!

Can you not give a ninety-year old man a break?)

What is altered is the jist of the letter, not the jist of the praise of Francis.

But the jist of the letter is not really so important to us. Not reproducing the whole letter saves those who asked for a blurb from an embarassement. That is a type of courtesy, I think. Only it was bungled a bit.

Jack Carson
2 months 1 week ago

I recall the pontificate of PJP II all too well. He was a holy man, a gifted pastor to the world and a true grace from God to the Catholic Church. I also recall the continual pounding he received by SSPX, Tridentine afficiinados, Sede Vacantists and anyone who loathed Vatican II and the revised Roman Missal which PJPII embraced both.

People are fickle. The only difference from today’s Catholic Church under Pope Francis as compared to JPII is the existence of the internet. Anyone who wants to be a pope, a modern day Savanarola, can be one via a revenue driven website, blog, and/or a pitiful HTML page.

We either believe the Holy Spirit appointed John XXIII, Paul VI, JPII, B16 and Francis as Popes or we do not. A Catholic believes the former, a non-Catholic believes the latter. The Spirit remains the same century after century, but the complainers have evolved to having more visible platforms to shine the light on themselves. One points people to Christ, the other away from Christ and serves as a “skandalon“ (Greek: stumbling block)...a scandal. Nothing has changed in 2000 years

St JPII pray for us

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