Pope Francis’ Pontificate Takes Another Hit With ‘Lettergate’ Mess


National Catholic Register, 22 March 2018

Not even a resignation is just a resignation. Pope Francis March 21 accepted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Viganò, the prefect of the Secretariat for Communication, after he intentionally deceived the Vatican press corps about a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

At the same time, Msgr. Vigano was appointed to the new role of “assessor” in the same department, which in Vatican parlance means the No. 3 position. It is a very fine, even Jesuitical, calibration: Msgr. Viganò’s deception made it untenable for him to continue as head of the department, but it is acceptable for a senior deputy? If the whole scandal had been the work of the deputy in the first place, would it have been okay for him to continue in that place?

Why did Pope Francis not simply let Msgr. Viganò go? Perhaps it is because what he did, while unacceptable in its deceit, was in other ways in keeping with the culture of this pontificate. In that sense, it became an unusual but fitting way to mark the Holy Father’s fifth anniversary week.

The Scandal: Neither Virtue nor Candor

The late Cardinal John Foley, the longtime president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, advised that there were two pillars of a good Church media strategy: first, virtue; second, where virtue fails, candor.

Cardinal Foley died in 2011, and, apparently, his memory has been entirely forgotten in his old department, for Msgr. Viganò attempted a spectacular deception and, when caught in the act, dissembled. It was a towering fiasco that shredded his personal credibility and earned him fierce denunciations from both conservatives and liberals alike.

My Register colleague Edward Pentin dubbed it “Lettergate,” and it centered on an initiative to burnish the theological bona fides of Pope Francis.

The Vatican publishing house — also under the direction of Msgr. Viganò — marked the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election by putting out 11 booklets on The Theology of Pope Francis. Msgr. Viganò wrote to Benedict XVI, asking him to write a page or two for the launch of the books, in effect giving a seal of approval to Francis’ theology and orthodoxy.

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