28 March 2018, The Tablet

Francis visits Benedict in first meeting after ‘Lettergate’

The meeting follows a major gaffe by Francis’ then communications chief Mgr Dario Vigano over his misrepresentation of a letter from the Pope Emeritus

Francis visits Benedict in first meeting after ‘Lettergate’

Pope Francis on Tuesday afternoon met Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at his predecessor’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery residence in the Vatican. The Holy See’s Press Office said in a communiqué that the visit was to exchange Easter greetings.

While the visit is an annual custom, the meeting this year was the first known contact between the two following a major gaffe by Francis’ then communications chief Mgr Dario Vigano over his misrepresentation of a letter from the Pope Emeritus to Vigano.

In what has become known as the Lettergate scandal, Vigano resigned after he partially revealed the contents of the private letter from Benedict to make it seem as if he endorsed a new Vatican-published volume of 11 books about Francis’ theology, which Vigano had launched on the eve of Francis’ fifth anniversary as Pope. Vigano selectively quoted from the letter to emphasise the “continuity” between the papacies of Benedict XVI and Francis.

He had a photo of the letter doctored to blur out Benedict’s full text, in which he said he had not read the books, would not read them because he did not have time and objected to one of the 11 authors. That author, German theologian Peter Hunermann, had launched “virulent” attacks against his papacy and that of St John Paul II, Benedict wrote. Fellow theologians from the German-speaking world have since defended Hunermann against that accusation, though what is clear is that Hunermann forcefully demanded a less centralised papacy than that under John Paul II when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He made this demand particularly in the “Cologne Declaration” of 1989, to which Benedict made hostile reference in his private letter to Vigano.  

In his letter of resignation to Francis, Vigano did not refer to the row over the Benedict letter. Francis refrained from criticism of Vigano in his own letter accepting the resignation.

“Following our most recent encounters and after having reflected at length and attentively considered the motivations of your request to make ‘make a step backwards' from direct responsibility for the Dicastery for Communications, I respect your decision and I welcome, not without some struggle, your resignation,” Francis wrote on 21 March.

However, in accepting Vigano’s resignation, Francis decided that Vigano should stay on at the Secretariat in the role of “assessor”, although it is not yet clear what that role will involve. Any successor to Vigano will wish to know what that role constitutes, in a hierarchical sense and with regard to who has first access to the Pope. 

The Vatican press office has said that until Francis names a new prefect for the communications office, the Secretariat will be led by its current second-in-command, Mgr Lucio Ruiz.

PICTURE: At the end of a consistory ceremony Pope Francis and a group of cardinals meet with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in a chapel at the Vatican on November 19, 2016 ©PA


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