Following controversy, Vatican publishes full text of Benedict XVI’s letter

An image showing a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI to Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, is seen in this photo released by the Vatican March 12. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Vatican has finally released the full text of the letter of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI following a five-day long public controversy in which the Secretariat for Communications was accused of censorship and manipulation of the text because it had originally published only parts of the letter together with a photo after the presentation in the Vatican of a series of 11 books on “The Theology of Pope Francis.”

Seeking to be transparent and in an effort to calm the storm, the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications sent the full text to the media, late afternoon, on March 17. The text was accompanied by a press communique that sought to explain why the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Mgr. Dario Vigano, to whom the “reserved” letter was addressed, had his office send the media only a photo of part of the first page of the letter, the last two lines of which had been blurred. This was accompanied by a press statement that included only the paragraphs that defended Francis’ philosophical and theological formation and affirmed the “interior unity” between the two pontificates.


At that time, on March 12, the eve of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, his office omitted the last two paragraphs of the letter when it sent the documentation to the media.

At the presentation of the 11 volumes, Mgr. Vigano read what was, up to now, believed to be the entire letter at the book’s presentation. It now transpires that the monsignor omitted the final paragraph of the letter.

At that time, on March 12, the eve of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, his office omitted the last two paragraphs of the letter when it sent the documentation to the media. In the penultimate paragraph, which Mgr. Vigano read at the book presentation, Benedict XVI explained that he was unable to write a theological comment on the 11 volumes because he had not "truly read" them. He made it clear that he did not foresee himself reading them in the future because of “reasons of health” and of other engagements that he had already accepted.

Journalists present at that event had recorded what the Vatican monsignor had said and published the paragraph which had been omitted in the documentation sent to the press after the Vatican released a partial version of the letter. That gave rise to the controversy, with journalists and bloggers speculating on why that paragraph was omitted from the documentation sent to the press, and asking why the photo was manipulated to blot out the rest of the text.

In the second missing paragraph—whose existence was not known publicly until today—Benedict expressed his “surprise” that the German theologian, Professor Peter Hunermann, was author of one of the 11 volumes. He recalled that during his pontificate the professor “had lead anti-papal initiatives” and had also participated in a significant way in a publication that “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the pope, especially on questions of moral theology” in relation to the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor.” He also recalled that the professor had been involved in a European theological initiative that was “organized in opposition to the papal magisterium” but was prevented from developing in this way because other theologians aligned with the thinking of the church prevented it.

The press statement concluded by stating that the decision as to what was made public “was motivated by the reserved [nature of the letter] and not by any intention to censure." 

In the communique that accompanied the release of the letter, the Secretariat for Communications sought to respond to “the many polemics about a presumed censorious manipulation of the photograph that was distributed as an accompanying photograph.”

It explained that what was read at the book-presentation was “that which was considered opportune and relevant to this initiative, and in particular to what the Emeritus Pope affirmed about the philosophical and theological formation of the present pontiff and the interior union between the two pontificates, leaving aside some annotations relative to the contributors of the series [of books].”

The press statement concluded by stating that the decision as to what was made public “was motivated by the reserved [nature of the letter] and not by any intention to censure” and, therefore, “to remove any doubt it was decided to make the letter known in its entirety.”

It should be noted that earlier in the day, the Italian journalist Sandro Magister revealed in his blog the essence of the final paragraph, and stated that the information came “from an incontrovertible source.” It is not clear whether Magister’s revelation moved the Vatican to release the full text, or whether there were other reasons for this.

What is clear is that the mismanagement of this whole affair has provoked many negative reactions and much embarrassment within the Vatican.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Robert Lewis
10 months ago

This whole brouhaha represents an attempt to cancel Pope Benedict's endorsement of his successor's pontificate. When will the supporters of Francis within the Church realize that a determined attempt is being made by a small but extremely powerful and wealthy cabal of "Traditionalists" to force him into retirement before he is able to make lasting reforms? Here is a very good example of the work of one of the chief spokesmen of this element, who are trying to unseat this pontiff:…

Andrew Strada
10 months ago

The original announcement was materially misleading in two respects. One, Pope Benedict had not read and apparently does not intend to read the books in detail. Two, he expressed surprise at the inclusion of a particular author whom he had seen as attacking his pontificate.

Christina Tsuchida
10 months ago

All that you people say may be true, but in the event, the provoked controversy has been good publicity! Albeit negative in tone, publicity about the controversy has opened the secular media to the issue of a possibly divided pontificate, and so has gleaned at least some readers for an otherwise [to them] boring document.


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