Source: Associated Press

Mar 14, 12:39 PM EDT


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.Vatican Media photo / via AP

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican admitted Thursday 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.

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 Thursday 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.

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.

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 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,” the AP standards read.

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  1. Yep. I had my suspicions.

    Even an old lib hand like Ratzinger would have paused at the invite to make a proverbial silk purse out of Bergoglio’s bumptious “acumen”, resting currently somewhere between Benedict IX’s and Luther’s.

  2. “A thief is better than a liar — but both will inherit destruction.”

  3. Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Maybe the Vatican will release a commentary clarifying the meaning of the second part of Pope Benedict’s letter, like they did with the Third Secret of Fatima.

    Hawkeye: Or maybe they’ll file it away in the same padlocked box in the Vatican archives.

    Klinger: Since it involves the hermeneutics of continuity between the two pontificates, maybe you need to attend a special conference on phenomenology and modernist hermeneutics in order to understand the dialectic of the New Evangelization involved in Ratzinger’s explanation.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: I like that explanation, Klinger. Father Gannon at Fordham would have been very impressed.

    Forgive me for being so direct, Klinger, but have you ever thought about whether you might have a religious vocation?

    Hawkeye: I thought you weren’t supposed to recruit for vocations anymore.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: But Klinger has such a fine grasp of the modernist dialectic of phenomenology and hermeneutics…and, besides, Pope Francis doesn’t mind if we bend the rules a little every now and then.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Have you ever thought about a religious vocation, Doctor McIntyre?

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