ROME — 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 Francis’s hand-picked communications czar, Monsignor Dario Vigano, was forced to resign over the so-called Lettergate scandal.
Vigano 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 Vigano had launched on the eve of Francis’s fifth anniversary as pope.
Vigano 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 Huenermann, 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 Vigano’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 Vigano’s letter of resignation was notable for the absence of any acknowledgment 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 Vigano’s resignation was similarly devoid of any criticism, and in fact he kept Vigano on in the Secretariat for Communications in the new job of “assessor.”