Pope Francis Names ‘Lettergate’ Prelate to Science Academy

Dario Edoardo Vigano, Vatican's prefect of the Secretariat for Communications and Director of Vatican Television Center, attends a press conference, on April 29, 2016 in Rome. / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has named the former Vatican communications czar who was forced to step down in 2018 amid the “Lettergate” scandal as vice-chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Monsignor Dario Viganò resigned from his post as director of the Vatican Communications Office in March 2018 after it was discovered that his office had doctored a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, making it sound as if the former pope said something he did not.

The Vatican distributed a photoshopped image of a letter from Emeritus Pope Benedict that seemed to express endorsement of a collection of books exploring the theology of Pope Francis, but which actually did the opposite — explaining instead why Benedict would not give his endorsement to the collection.

At the time, journalists accused the Vatican communications department of propagating “fake news,” and the Associated Press (AP) declared the Vatican’s manipulation of the photograph had “violated photojournalist industry standards.” The missing content “significantly altered the meaning of the quotes the Vatican chose to highlight,” AP said, because they “suggested that Benedict had read the volume, agreed with it and given it his full endorsement and assessment.”

Along with blurring two lines of text, the Viganò’s office distributed only the first page of the letter, omitting a significant passage in which the former pope sharply criticized one of the authors of the series.

In a curious irony, just six weeks after he resigned in ignominy, Msgr. Viganò delivered a lecture on fake news and journalistic ethics.

During the conference, Viganò spoke on a panel titled “Fake News and the Ethical Responsibilities of Media,” in which he insisted on the need for transparency in the media. The prelate insisted that journalists who publish erroneous information risk “poisoning” their readers.

Transparency on the web “is absolutely urgent,” especially when dealing with big organizations, he said.

Now Msgr. Viganò will be assuming a new role as the number-2 man at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an organization already fraught with its own scandals and bad press.

The Chancellor of the Academy, Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, leapt into the public eye in February 2018 when he proposed that Communist China was the country that best exemplified Catholic social teaching.

After visiting China for the first time, Bishop Sanchez Sorondo gushed over what he had seen, telling a journalist that “at this moment, the Chinese are the ones implementing Catholic social teaching best.”

The Chinese “look for the common good and subordinate other things to the general welfare,” Sanchez insisted, saying he had “found an extraordinary China” with an exceptional work ethic.

What many people don’t know, he said, “is that the central Chinese value is work, work, work. There’s no other way, basically it’s what Saint Paul said: whoever does not work should not eat.”

“You don’t have shantytowns, you don’t have drugs, young people do not take drugs. There is like a positive national consciousness, they want to show that they have changed, and now they accept private property,” he said.

What the prelate failed to mention were China’s rampant human rights abuses such as forced abortions, slave labor, the persecution of Christians, severely limited freedoms, and a church demolition campaign under China’s authoritarian system, let alone its official atheism.

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