VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of the Vatican’s communications department has resigned over a scandal about a letter from the retired pope that the communications chief mischaracterized in public and then had digitally manipulated in a photograph sent to the media.
The Vatican said Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Monsignor Dario Vigano on Wednesday (March 21) and named his deputy, Monsignor Lucio Adrian Ruiz, to run the Secretariat for Communications.
The “Lettergate” scandal erupted last week after Vigano read aloud part of a private letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI at a book launch for a Vatican-published, 11-volume set of books about Francis’ theology.
Marking Francis’ fifth anniversary as pope, Vigano had held up Benedict’s letter as a sign of the continuity between the two popes, to blunt critics who complain that Francis’ mercy-over-morals papacy represents a theological break from Benedict’s doctrinaire term.
Vigano didn’t read the whole letter, including omitting the part where Benedict objected to one of the authors because he had been a longtime critic of Benedict and St. John Paul II.
The Associated Press reported that the photograph of the letter that Vigano’s office had sent out to the media digitally blurred out the lines where Benedict began to explain that he wouldn’t comment on the books. The manipulation violated basic photojournalism ethical standards that forbid such distortion, especially when it misrepresents the content of the image.
In his resignation letter dated March 19, Vigano said he wanted to step aside so that his presence “wouldn’t delay, damage or block” Francis’ reform of the Vatican’s communications operations.
He acknowledged that his behavior, despite his intentions, had destabilized the communications reform.
The scandal embarrassed the Vatican and led to accusations that the pope’s own communications office was spreading “fake news,” just weeks after Francis dedicated his annual media message to denouncing “fake news” and the intentional distortion of information.