The Vatican admitted Thursday that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards, the AP reports. The Vatican's communications office released the photo of the letter on Monday on the eve of Francis' five-year anniversary. The letter was cited by Monsignor Dario Vigano, chief of communications, to rebut critics of Francis who question his theological and philosophical heft and say he represents a rupture from Benedict's doctrine-minded papacy. In the part of the letter that is legible in the photo, Benedict praised a new volume of books on the theology of Francis as evidence of the "foolish prejudice" of his critics. The book project, Benedict wrote, "helps to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates."
The Vatican admitted Thursday that it blurred the two final lines of the first page where Benedict begins to explain that he didn't actually read the books in question. He wrote that he cannot contribute a theological assessment of Francis as requested by Vigano because he has other projects to do. The Vatican didn't explain why it blurred the lines other than to say it never intended for the full letter to be released. In fact, the entire second page of the letter is covered in the photo by a stack of books, with just Benedict's tiny signature showing, to prove its authenticity. The missing content significantly altered the meaning of the quotes the Vatican chose to highlight, which were widely picked up by the media. Those quotes suggested that Benedict had read the volume, agreed with it, and given it his full endorsement and assessment.