A letter from Benedict XVI turned out to have been manipulated by Vatican officials. Mgr Dario Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, launched an 11-booklet series on Pope Francis by quoting Benedict as saying the collection showed “continuity” between him and Francis. The Vatican then admitted it had concealed the rest of the letter – even blurring the official photo – in which Benedict refused to write a preface to the series and criticised the choice of authors.
What the media said
At first, the headlines hailed the letter as a great endorsement of Pope Francis: “On anniversary, Pope’s predecessor hits out at conservatives’ ‘stupid prejudice’,” said Reuters. But the revelations about the letter led to a change of tone.
At Vox.com, Tara Isabella Burton noted that “Pope Francis warned against the ‘crafty serpent’ of fake news last month. He called it a ‘sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes’ and said it ‘leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred’. But this month, ‘fake news’ has reached the Vatican door.” Burton said that “While the blurring of Benedict’s caveat doesn’t totally change the tenor of the letter, it does significantly undercut the degree to which the letter should be read as unambiguous praise for Francis’s papacy.”
What Catholic media said
At catholicculture.org, Philip Lawler said the Vatican’s tactics had backfired, especially when Benedict criticised an author, Peter Hünermann, selected as an interpreter of Francis’s work. “The Vatican had introduced the letter from Benedict in an effort to show continuity in papal teaching; in fact, when the dust settled, the former pontiff’s letter pointed to the clear discontinuity.”
Some saw a certain symbolism in the Vatican’s mistake. “What was done this week to Benedict’s letter – blurring, effacing, concealing one half so as to distort the whole – is being done to our entire tradition,” tweeted Matthew Schmitz of First Things.
The National Catholic Register’s Edward Pentin said he had asked for a copy of Mgr Viganò’s original letter to Benedict, but received no response.
✣Cause of Pakistani ‘martyr’ Shahbaz Bhatti stalls
The cause for Shahbaz Bhatti’s has stalled, according to a Pakistani bishop. Bhatti, a government minister who spoke out against Christian persecution, was shot dead in 2011. Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad told Crux that the bishop who was collecting testimony died in 2016, and the Cause had not “moved forward” since.
Why was it under-reported
Causes require energy and money. If they do not progress, they do not make headlines. But Bhatti’s is an exceptional case. He was known as a devout, great-hearted and prayerful Catholic, single-minded in his campaigns for justice, trustful in Divine Providence even when he knew Islamist terrorists wanted him dead. His Cause was opened five years after his death – the earliest possible moment under normal canonisation rules. But since 2016 it has been neglected. It may be that pursuing his canonisation is just too risky for the Church in Pakistan today.
What will happen next?
The cause may well continue to stagnate. Pakistani Christians regularly face violent persecution after false rumours are spread, or on the slightest provocation. And it is possible that venerating Bhatti might seem such a provocation. When Crux asked Archbishop Arshad why the Church had not shown more support to Asia Bibi, a Catholic on death row. “The Church has to be very careful about what it does,” he said. “Pakistan isn’t Europe or America, where you have the right to speak. [In Pakistan,] if you speak, they’ll kill you.”
✣The week ahead
On Good Friday, pubs in Ireland will be open for the first time in 91 years. Parliament has lifted a ban on serving alcohol introduced in 1927. But several publicans have vowed to stick to tradition and close anyway. Dermot Muldoon, of Drumconrath, County Meath, said he had received lots of support from customers. “Slowly, all the Irish traditions are being stripped,” he said.
Bishop Richard Moth will patrol the streets of Woking this evening. He will be joining the Woking Street Angels, a volunteer group that supports people in need on nights out. Its presence has helped to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.
Saturday is the 38th anniversary of Oscar Romero’s martyrdom. Archbishop Peter Smith will celebrate a Mass for the occasion at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. Retired Bishop John Rawsthorne will preach. In the afternoon a motet written by James MacMillan in honour of Romero’s centenary will be performed during evensong in Westminster Abbey.