ROME — An Italian journalist banned from the Vatican press office for publishing the pope’s encyclical on the environment too early has dropped another bombshell: A letter to the pope allegedly signed by 13 cardinals raising concerns about left-wing manipulation of the process at the bishops’ synod.

There’s just one problem: Four of the cardinals deny they signed it. And a source says that although such a letter exists, the report of its content isn’t accurate.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, declined to comment at Monday’s press briefing, saying that since it was a letter supposedly for Pope Francis, “it’s up to him to choose what to say about it.”

But he did say that two of the reported signatories had denied signing the letter. And then, as the briefing was underway, a third issued a similar denial. Later, a fourth also denied involvement to Crux.

The cardinals who said they didn’t sign the letter are Péter Erdõ, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, and relator general of the synod; Mauro Piacenza of Genoa, Penitentiary Major at the Vatican; Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, and André Armand Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris.

The text of the alleged letter was revealed by Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican writer for the magazine “L’espresso” who published the final draft of Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, before its release date. For that infraction, he was banned from the Vatican press office, and later from the papal plane.

According to Magister’s account of the letter, which was dated a week ago (Oct. 5), the cardinals reportedly told the pope that changes in the synod process seem designed to “facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.”

Such questions include the three hot-button issues that have caused the most division during the synod process that began in 2013:

  • The Church’s stance on whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion
  • A more welcoming stance toward members of the LGBT community
  • Couples in irregular situations, such as living together without being married

Several of the reported signers are conservative bishops who are on the record expressing reservations about changes in Church teaching on any of these issues.

The bishops, according to Magister, complained in the letter that new synod procedures lack “openness and genuine collegiality,” that members of the drafting committee were appointed by Francis rather than elected by the bishops, and that “a vital pastoral matter” — the importance of marriage and family — could be overshadowed by the Communion for divorced Catholics issue.

Magister reported that the prelates had Australian Cardinal George Pell, appointed by Francis as the Vatican’s first-ever Secretary for the Economy, hand-deliver the letter to the pope.

Lombardi declined to confirm that, saying, “If it was a document addressed to the pope, it’s up to him to say ‘I’ve received it or not.’”

A source told Crux, however, that the letter does exist, but that Pell’s involvement was overstated.

The source, a senior participant in the synod who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said the content of the letter as described by Magister also was incorrect, as was the list of signatories.

He did confirm, however, that there is a letter addressed to the pope from a number of cardinals, but declined to elaborate on its contents.

The other bishops who reportedly signed the letter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Here is the full list of cardinals who supposedly signed the letter:

  • Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, Italy, theologian, formerly the first president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
  • Thomas C. Collins, archbishop of Toronto, Canada
  • Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York
  • Willem J. Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland
  • Péter Erdõ, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, president of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe and relator general of the synod
  • Gerhard L. Müller, former bishop of Regensburg, Germany, and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2012
  • Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, president delegate of the synod
  • George Pell, archbishop emeritus of Sydney, Australia, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy since 2014
  • Mauro Piacenza of Genoa, Italy, former prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Penitentiary Major since 2013
  • Robert Sarah, former archbishop of Conakry, Guinea, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments since 2014
  • Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Italy
  • Jorge L. Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela
  • André Armand Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris