Vatican City - The head of the Vatican's communications department resigned on Wednesday after he mischaracterised a private letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI, then had a photo of it digitally manipulated and sent out to the media.
A week after The Associated Press exposed the doctored photo, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Monsignor Dario Vigano and named his deputy to run the Secretariat for Communications for now.
But Francis kept Vigano on in the department in a lesser capacity, indicating that he doesn't believe the problem was all that grave.
The so-called "Lettergate" scandal erupted last week when Vigano read aloud part of a private letter from Benedict at a book launch for a Vatican-published, 11-volume set of books about Francis' theology.
Marking Francis' fifth anniversary as pope, Vigano had held up Benedict's letter as a sign of the continuity between the two popes, to blunt critics who complain that Francis' mercy-over-morals papacy represents a theological break from Benedict's doctrine-minded, theology-heavy papacy.
Vigano didn't read the whole letter, and omitted the part where Benedict objected to one of the authors in the volume because he had been a long-time critic of Benedict and St John Paul II.
A press release sent out by Vigano's office only contained Benedict's words of praise for Francis and the book initiative, without mentioning that he hadn't even read the books and had no plans to.
The AP reported that the photograph of the letter that accompanied the press release had digitally blurred out the lines where Benedict began to explain that he didn't have time to read the books and wouldn't comment on them, as requested by Vigano.
The photo manipulation violated basic photojournalism ethical standards that forbid such distortion, especially when it misrepresents the content of the image.
The scandal embarrassed the Vatican and led to accusations that the pope's own communications office was spreading "fake news", just weeks after Francis dedicated his annual media message to denouncing "fake news" and the intentional distortion of information.
Francis has frequently chided journalists for only giving half of the story.
In his resignation letter dated March 19, Vigano said he wanted to step aside so that his presence "wouldn't delay, damage or block" Francis' reform of the Vatican's communications operations.
He didn't acknowledge that he had misrepresented Benedict's letter or doctored the photo, saying only that he realised that his actions - despite his intentions - had created controversy and destabilised the communications reform.
In his own letter accepting the resignation, Francis said he was removing Vigano reluctantly and praised him for his humility and willingness to work for the good of the church.
He asked Vigano to stay on in the communications secretariat in the new position of "assessor", which in Vatican offices usually amounts to the No 3 spot.
The current No 2, Monsignor Lucio Adrian Ruiz, will run the office until a new prefect is named.
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