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Pope Francis visits Benedict XVI in the wake of ‘Lettergate’

The Pope Emeritus embraces Francis during a celebration marking his 65 years as a priest (CNS)

Pope Francis met Tuesday with Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in the first known contact between the two, following a major gaffe by Francis’s communications chief over his misrepresentation of a letter from the retired pontiff.

The Vatican press office said Francis called on Benedict to bring him Easter greetings.

The meeting, however, came a week after Pope Francis’s hand-picked communications czar, Monsignor Dario Viganò, was forced to resign over the so-called Lettergate scandal.

Viganò partially revealed the contents of a private letter from Benedict to make it seem as if he endorsed a new Vatican-published volume of 11 books about Francis’s theology, which Viganò had launched on the eve of Francis’s fifth anniversary as Pope.

Viganò then had a photo of the letter doctored to blur out Benedict’s full text, in which he said he hadn’t read the books, wouldn’t read them because he didn’t have time and objected to one of the 11 authors. The author, German theologian Peter Hünermann, had launched “virulent” attacks against his papacy and that of St John Paul II, Benedict wrote.

The scandal led to accusations the Vatican was spreading “fake news,” just weeks after Francis dedicated his annual media message to the fight against “fake news” and the intentional distortion of information. And it produced the exact opposite of Viganò’s desired effect to establish Francis’s theological bonafides, showing that the retired pope — one of the most respected theologians today — wouldn’t endorse the project.

The Vatican spokesman declined to provide any further details of the Francis-Benedict meeting, other than to say that the two occasionally meet.

But Viganò’s letter of resignation was notable for the absence of any acknowledgement of wrongdoing, or any apology to Benedict for having misrepresented the contents of his letter, which had been marked “Private-Reserved.”

Francis’s letter in accepting Viganò’s resignation was similarly devoid of any criticism, and in fact he kept Viganò on in the Secretariat for Communications in the new job of “assessor.”