Rarely has the Vatican reacted more swiftly to a journalistic fiasco than it did this week, banning veteran Italian journalist Sandro Magister from the Holy See Press Office and revoking his accreditation just hours after Magister published online a leaked version of the letter.
In a statement, the Vatican Press Office acknowledged the leak but insisted that the published document was “not the final text” but merely a “draft,” leaving wide open the question of how faithful the document was to the official version.
A careful comparison of the leaked “draft” of the encyclical made available in Italian on Monday with the official version, however, reveals that there were only 52 changes made, nearly half of which were simple formatting changes. The rest were stylistic or typographical, and none made any substantial modification to the content of the text.
In other words, the leaked text was the real deal.
The official letter announcing Magister’s suspension was posted prominently in the Vatican Press Office, which spawned a local debate regarding the appropriateness of the punishment and the supposed breach of journalistic ethics that he was accused of.
Moreover, journalists covering the Vatican had to struggle with the question of whether or not to publish stories based on the leaked text, over which there was intense disagreement.
…And we’ve broken out into another screaming match @HolySeePress on ethics of writing on leaked encyclical.
— Joshua McElwee (@joshjmac) June 16, 2015
There has been no announcement regarding the Vatican insider who actually made the document available to Magister. Speculation ranges from high-ranking cardinals trying to “sabotage” the encyclical, to office workers responsible for pulping earlier drafts of the text once they have been updated.
As for the Pope’s letter itself, it is loaded with statements expressing the Pope’s agreement with “scientific consensus” regarding climate change, as well as declarations regarding the environmental damage caused by capitalism, though Francis does not seem to wish to burden Catholic consciences with any moral duty to concur with him.
In fact, he says, “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics” but is more interested in encouraging “an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”
Interestingly, in his formal presentation of the encyclical Thursday morning, Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson chose to read this very citation from the Pope’s letter.
The debate has officially begun.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome