UPDATES – More of and about The Letter™ of Benedict XVI on the booklets

Because I have about 60 emails having to do with this, and since I’ve already made a few comments about this odd story elsewhere, here is a follow up, for the sake of completeness.

Sandro Magister posted the full text of The Letter™ from Benedict XVI’s about some volumes published on Pope Francis theology. At first we had just some blurbs from the letter, which caused a not a few people to scratch their heads in puzzled wonder.


Last January, the Secretariat for Communications under Msgr Dario Edoardo Viganò, sent Benedict XVI 11 booklet series with offerings of various authors concerning “The theology of Pope Francis,” published by  Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  On 7 February Benedict wrote to Viganò about receiving the booklets.  On 12 March Viganò read the letter during the presentation of the series to the press, just before the 5th anniversary of the election of Francis.  Only portions of the letter were distributed to newsies.  The press took the two things as being connected and as a comment of Benedict on the pontificate.  It seems fairly certain that it was Viganò’s intention that Benedict’s letter should be taken as a ratification of the pontificate.  The “doctoring” of the photo of the letter seems to confirm that.

Whereas only bits of the letter were known before, but now the text is out.  Magister transcribed it from the video of the conference he also attended in person.

Benedictus XVI
Papa Emeritus

Rev.mo Signore
Mons. Dario Edoardo Viganò
Prefetto della
Segreteria per la Comunicazione

Città del Vaticano
7 febbraio 2018

Reverendissimo Monsignore,

La ringrazio per la sua cortese lettera del 12 gennaio e per l’allegato dono degli undici piccoli volumi curati da Roberto Repole.

Plaudo a questa iniziativa che vuole opporsi e reagire allo stolto pregiudizio per cui Papa Francesco sarebbe solo un uomo pratico privo di particolare formazione teologica o filosofica, mentre io sarei stato unicamente un teorico della teologia che poco avrebbe capito della vita concreta di un cristiano oggi.

I piccoli volumi mostrano, a ragione, che Papa Francesco è un uomo di profonda formazione filosofica e teologica e aiutano perciò a vedere la continuità interiore tra i due pontificati, pur con tutte le differenze di stile e di temperamento.

Tuttavia non mi sento di scrivere su di essi una breve e densa pagina teologica perché in tutta la mia vita è sempre stato chiaro che avrei scritto e mi sarei espresso soltanto su libri che avevo anche veramente letto. Purtroppo, anche solo per ragioni fisiche, non sono in grado di leggere gli undici volumetti nel prossimo futuro, tanto più che mi attendono altri impegni che ho già assunti.

Sono certo che avrà comprensione e la saluto cordialmente.


Benedetto XVI

And now… with some emphases:

Benedictus XVI
Papa Emeritus

Rev.mo Signore
Mons. Dario Edoardo Viganò
Prefetto della
Segreteria per la Comunicazione

Città del Vaticano
7 febbraio 2018

Reverendissimo Monsignore,

I thank you for your courteous letter of January 12 and for the attached gift of the eleven small volumes edited by Roberto Repole.

I applaud this initiative which is intended to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice according to which Pope Francis would be only a practical man devoid of particular theological or philosophical formation, while I would be solely a theoretician of theology who could understand little of the concrete life of a Christian today. [Odd, for Ratzinger.  By this phrase, indeed this paragraph, I must conclude that Benedict never expected this to see the light of day, much less to be weaponized.]

The little volumes demonstrate, rightly so, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help in seeing the interior continuity between the two pontificates, albeit with all the differences of style and temperament.

Nonetheless, I do not feel that I can write a brief and dense theological page about them because for my whole life [!] it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only on books that I had also truly read. [!] Unfortunately, even if only for physical reasons, I am not able to read the eleven little volumes in the near future, all the more so in that I am under other obligations to which I have already agreed. [I’d love to know what they are.  Could it be something else he has committed himself to write?  Could it be his early commitment not to make certain comments?]

I am sure that you will understand, and I extend to you my cordial greeting.


Benedict XVI

It could be that the letter which was sent to Benedict with the volumes – which clearly was trying to get out of him that much-desired “brief and dense theological page” itself was the source of the dichotomy that Benedict rejects: “You know, Holiness, that there are people out there who say X about Francis and Y about you.  Why don’t you write something that refutes that claim?”

Ratzinger didn’t take the bait.

So, Benedict ends up saying: I haven’t read them and I am not going to read them.  But thanks for sending them.  Pontificates are different and yet the same.  I don’t have much more for you than that.

Moreover, as I mentioned elsewhere, I find it entirely out of keeping with Ratzinger’s style to make such a blatantly self-referential defense.  If there is anything that anyone will notice in the writings of Benedict is his theme of self-referentiality.  As I wrote elsewhere, some enterprising student of theology could write a thesis on the subject.  I suspect that, given that he said that he wasn’t planning on reading them, his letter would not be weaponized… as it was by leaving out that paragraph when giving printed material to the press.


Meanwhile, La Nuova Bussola has something.  Inter alia, we read…

In effetti in tanti hanno notato la singolarità del messaggio sia per lo stile – così diverso da altri interventi del Papa emerito – sia per i contenuti, anche se dalla portata molto meno sconvolgente di quanto si sia fatto credere.

Yes, I am one of them who noticed that.

Meanwhile, more from Pentin HERE:

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Vatican admitted it had “altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis.” It 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.” [NB] 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.”


National Review Online:

Faith, Sorely Tested: Today’s Edition

Despair is a sin — Bill Buckley said that frequently, and he was right to do so. It’s practical: One needs to keep repeating that so as not to lose faith. We shall prevail against the Gates of Hell — This is another mantra which many traditional/conservative Catholics say to keep the faith. Given the troubling machinations and trends of Holy Mother Church’s leaders and of Vatican bureaucrats, I find myself saying or thinking this daily.

Today’s reason for almost-despair is an Associated Press story: Vatican doctors photo of Benedict’s praise for Francis. Read it. Turning [weaponizing] the retired pope into a prop for the current pope’s theological play-acting is deeply embarrassing, but of no surprise for an ancient institution whose timid bureaucrats and diplomats (timid, except when it comes to hating America) are eagerly handing the faithful in China over to the Commie regime, whose ultimate leader, Pope Francis, has heaped scorn on abuse victims, and whose leftist cardinals are trying to rewrite dogma on sex, marriage, and sin.

We shall prevail against . . .

UPDATE 16 March:

Meanwhile, at Reuters there is a blurb, but with something rather curious that is fully in keeping with this developing “goat rodeo”.   Reuters writes about the kerfuffle, calling it Lettergate in their title  They quote something from Ed Pentin (clearly the best working Anglophone Vaticanista in Rome right now):

In an email to Reuters, he dubbed the whole episode the Vatican’s “Lettergate”.

And at the bottom of the piece Reuters add… here’s a screen shot.

“Dropped the word ‘angry’ in paragraph 10”!

So… where was that word originally?

It just gets better.



Even ultra-lib and card-carrying member of the New catholic Red Guards, the virtually always wrong Robert Mickens has a blistering piece at mostly wacky La Croix International about the handling of The Letter™ and about, especially, the head of the Vatican’s “reformed” (HAH!) Secretariat for Communications Msgr. Dario Viganò.

Here in one piece do we verify not one but two apothegemata, namely, the one about broken clocks and the other about enemies of enemies.

First, Mickens gives fulsome praise to L’Osservatore Romano for resisting Viganò and his “wrecking ball tactics, and his failure to provide precise details on what the final configuration of this new multi-media conglomerate is supposed to look like”.  Micken’s describes also the dismantling of Vatican Radio (for which, if memory serves he worked for while, in the English section).  Frankly, I think the dismantling of the short wave radio effort was deeply stupid.  Only lack of imagination and competence prevented all of Vatican Radio from being resorted and revitalized.  And let’s not even bring in the lack of basic social justice issues, such as just and ethical pay and treatment of employees.

Mickens raises questions about Viganò, including the pretty basic: How the heck did he get this job in the first place?  Quote:

It is still a mystery to almost everyone how the prefect got his current position. No one seems able to positively identify the people with influence (most likely in the Italian hierarchy) that helped him get a Vatican job in the first place.


But how and why he eventually got his current high-profile job is still unclear. At the time, many believed that the leading and more qualified candidate was Msgr. Tighe.

I say: If they need someone, I’m available.  I might even give Mickens a job, back at Vatican Radio!

Anyway, a lot of his article concerns The Letter™ and its surrounding Goat Rodeo and how it all revolves about Msgr. Viganò.  It’s brutal.

Ultra-liberal La Croix International is behind a paywall, but they let you read a few free articles.


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  1. New Sister says:

    THANK YOU for addressing this, Fr Z. All the spin out there was confusing & upsetting… “very fake news”

  2. Sawyer says:

    Regarding this paragraph:

    “I applaud this initiative which is intended to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice according to which Pope Francis would be only a practical man devoid of particular theological or philosophical formation, while I would be solely a theoretician of theology who could understand little of the concrete life of a Christian today. [Odd, for Ratzinger. By this phrase, indeed this paragraph, I must conclude that Benedict never expected this to see the light of day, much less to be weaponized.]”

    I see it differently. Benedict’s statement “… while I would be solely a theoretician…” is a subordinate clause whose meaning is not independent of the main clause that precedes it.

    Here is my condensation and interpretation:

    “I applaud this initiative which is intended to oppose the foolish prejudice according to which:
    1) Pope Francis would only be a practical man and
    2) I would only be a theoretician.”

    I believe Benedict is NOT saying that he is only a theoretician. He is saying that to pit Francis as merely practical against Benedict as merely theoretical is a false, prejudiced approach.

  3. majuscule says:

    Certain people are claiming no obfuscation because the complete letter was read at the press conference. I see from Father’s post that Sandro Magister had to transcribe it from the video because the printed version was not complete.

    I’m wondering if it was also read in English or other languages at the press conference? How many people were there taking word for word notes? Why did it have to be transcribed?

    It sure sounds like obfuscation to me. And weaponization. Yeah, that’s the word!

  4. TonyO says:

    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.

    !!! ?? !!!!! Never intended for the evidence of their perfidy to be released! News flash: scoundrel hides evidence!

    Sometimes people say the stupidest things, not stupid because they are false, but stupid because they are true and they are revealing their false selves for others to see. The Vatican news office is probably having a blood-letting / heads-rolling spree round about now.

    On the other side of the coin: that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation,. Did Benedict just say that there is NO EXCUSE for the nonsense and confusion that is issuing forth from Francis’s reign? Or was that my mis-reading?

  5. Toan says:

    It looks like someone attempted applying a “paradigm shift” to interpreting Benedict XVI’s letter.

  6. cwillia1 says:

    Benedict politely refuses to read the books. He states the books will refute a certain crude caricature of the differences between the two papacies. Of course Pope Francis is trained in theology. Most likely the books are perfectly orthodox popularizations for general consumption.

    Now would Benedict be open with the people who sent the books for review about what he thinks of Francis’s papacy? I think not. He is a discreet man.

  7. Pingback: Manipulators in the Vatican betray Benedict’s “Personal reserved” letter! |

  8. bcstudent says:

    TonyO- That was my first reaction when I read the letter as well. I felt as if Benedict was quietly saying to those who hold the theory that “Francis just doesn’t know better…it’s a different papacy because recent popes have been theologians and he isn’t” that Francis is well educated and knows what he is doing—which is a frightening thought indeed.

  9. Pingback: THVRSDAY EXTRA – Big Pulpit

  10. David says:

    Surely this major embarrassment and the general trend of distress over the state of the Vatican played a part in the Pope’s recent choosing to say very directly that a person may not receive Communion unless that person is in the State of Grace. The kind of thing his critics would like to hear to be sure, but still doesn’t solve the basic problem with ‘A.L.’s moral theology.

  11. benedetta says:

    Thanks Fr Z for clarity. As usual!

  12. Fr. Kelly says:

    The more I think about this whole Kerfuffle, the more exercised I get at the hubris of the Communications director, Msgr. Vigano.

    As far as I can ascertain, these books are lightweight puff pieces written by relatively unkown authors, since even Libreria Editrice Vaticana does not give them room on their press release about the publication of these booklets. All they have is a note announcing the publication and the price and a phone number to call for more information. This is not how they market books that they consider important.

    This brings me to bridle at the impertinence displayed by Msgr. Vigano in bothering Pope Emeritus Benedict about them and having the hubris to ask him to write a dense theological analysis of these booklets. This would have been rather insulting to him even before he was Pope (Emeritus or otherwise) given his longstanding as a Theology Professor and teacher.
    And if he had undertaken to write such a review it would have much more weight than the little tracts he would have been reviewing. (Think of the more weighty and memorable introductions
    he has written eg. to Msgr Klaus Gamber’s watershed study of the Sacred Liturgy, to name one)

    Just because these books are ostensibly written about the Theology of Pope Francis, does not mean that they themselves are worthy of anyone’s consideration, let alone that of Pope Emeritus Benedict/ Joseph Ratzinger.

    In another context, it would be like asking Micky Mantle to bat in a local small town American Legion baseball game. He might be willing to do it out of generosity and sportsmanship, but the quality and level of play would not justify demanding it of him.

    And then there is the manipulation and lies ….

  13. robtbrown says:

    Msgr. Dario Viganò–or whoever was behind this disaster–is both shrewd and naive-stupid.

    Shrewd because he knows he is practicing CYA by reading the entire letter, while knowing that reporters often work from handouts.

    Naive-stupid by not realizing that someone would discover the deception, after which it would appear on the Internet.

    I’m reminded of the chanceries that sent out letters lying about what Summorum Pontificum had actually said–and how quickly those letters appeared on this blog.

  14. richiedel says:

    Gotta love the statement by Ambrogetti: “…the last paragraph in no way changes the significance of Benedict’s previous comments.”

    They weren’t previous comments – they were simultaneous to the rest of the letter which was only later revealed. But this further begs the question: if the remainder of the letter did nothing to change the nature of Benedict’s comments, why did they either blur it out or cover with a stack of booklets?

    There was intentional effort to present Benedict’s praise as applicable to the books themselves, when in reality he hadn’t read them. So, no, the remainder of the letter didn’t change the significance of Benedict’s comments in and of themselves, but it definitely changed the way in which his comments were meant to be taken by those who doctored the photograph…and who placed a stack of booklets on the second page of the letter.

  15. The Egyptian says:

    and here I naively thought that our goverment had the only swamp that needed draining, seems the Vatican has a 1800 year head start on DCs foggy bottoms

  16. mibethda says:

    Magister is out today with another report which may somewhat answer Father’s question about why Pope Benedict declined Vigano’s suggestion that he provide a supporting review of the eleven ‘little books’. According to Magister, there was another portion of the letter not read and, according to his sources, it seemed to have reference to two of the authors of those books who, in the past, have been implacable foes of the theological views of Pope Benedict.

  17. Pingback: Even more comes about The Letter™: additional missing text | Fr. Z's Blog

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