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Vatican media chief resigns following controversy over altered letter

(Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters)A series of 11 booklets on The Theology of Pope Francis and a letter from former Pope Benedict, which was read out at the presentation of the work, are seen at the Vatican in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters March 15, 2018.

Monsignor Dario Vigano, who serves as the head of Vatican Secretariat for Communication, has resigned from his post on Wednesday, a week after it was revealed that a photo of a private letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI was digitally altered and sent out to the media.

The Vatican Secretariat for Communication had released the full text of Benedict's letter on Saturday after drawing heavy criticism for blurring part of the photograph and for withholding another section of the document.

According to the Associated Press, Pope Francis had accepted Vigano's resignation and named his deputy to run the Secretariat for Communications, but kept him in the department in a lesser capacity.

In his resignation letter, Vigano did not acknowledge that he had misrepresented Benedict's letter or altered the photo, and only stated that he realized that his actions — despite his intentions — had stirred controversy and destabilized Francis' reform of the Vatican's communications operations.

Monsignor Lucio Adrian Ruiz, the current No. 2, will be running the Vatican's communications department until a new prefect is named.

Vigano, who was appointed by the pope to run the department in 2015, had read aloud part of the letter during the book launch for a Vatican-published, 11-volume set of books about Francis' theology. In one section of the letter, Benedict rejected the "stupid prejudice" of those who say Francis' theology is lacking.

Benedict also refuted assertions that Francis' academic qualities were lacking, and praised the current pope as a "man of deep philosophical and theological formation" and finding an "interior continuity between the two pontificates."

However, a press release handed out at the event did not contain the paragraph in which Benedict apologized for not being able to read all 11 volumes and thus declining a request to write a "short and dense theological" introduction for the series.

In the final paragraph of the letter, Benedict had lamented the fact that German theologian Peter Hunermann was selected by the Vatican publishing house LEV to write one of the volumes.

The former pontiff had complained that Hunermann had "led anti-papal initiatives" during his 2005-2013 papacy and also attacked some of the writings of Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.

"I am certain that you will understand my denial (of the request to write an introduction)," Benedict told Vigano, according to Reuters.

The alteration of the photograph had led to accusations that the pope's own communications office was spreading "fake news." Francis had recently dedicated his annual media message to denouncing "fake news" and the intentional distortion of information, and he has frequently castigated journalists for telling only half of the story.

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