November 1, 2014
Fake pope letter turns into a mystery
Top officials insist government received communication through normal channels
Everybody knows the ease with which con artists can make something fake look real. But when the very Government House is involved, the everyday failure of fact-checking turns into a hugely embarrassing moment.
But then there was a twist, and what seemed to be an egg-on-its-face moment turned into a mystery involving some of the highest members of the administration as government officials say the letter arrived the same way all other Holy See correspondence reaches the presidency.
It all began yesterday, when the official presidential news website published a letter allegedly written by Pope Francis in which the pontiff greeted President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner amid the “national celebrations” of May 25 — the so-called May Revolution.
“I am pleased to convey to you my warm greetings on the occasion of the national celebrations of this beloved country, along with my warmest congratulations to all Argentines,” said the letter. “I ask for the protection of Our Lady of Luján to encourage and sustain efforts in the united path of solidarity and justice.”Dated May 15, it was signed simply, “Francisco.”But there was a problem — Pope Francis never wrote the letter.
‘In bad faith’
Many had raised questions about suspicious aspects of the letter: the typography, the spelling mistakes, the fact that it was written in capital letters. And in retrospect it seemed obvious.
But coming after some mild tensions between the Church and Fernández de Kirchner’s government, the letter seemed to be too good of a story to pass up — or even question. By yesterday afternoon, all the main media outlets had published the story, following the path forged by the official presidential website, which was quickly followed by the state-run news agency Télam.
A Vatican official was the first to speak up.
“The truth is this was made in bad faith,” Father Guillermo Karcher, one of the pope’s closest collaborators, told news channel C5N. Karcher said he first heard about the letter through “a Whatsapp message.”“It’s bogus,” he added. “Francis kept staring at the little paper (i.e. the fake letter). We should not keep talking about it — some people want to ruin the pope’s reputation.”
“The pope is not angry (at this), but... Who could come up with something like that?,” Karcher wondered. “To use the pope’s name, the Papal Legation’s letterhead... I’ve never seen something like this before.”Unlike the real Francis, Karcher did bless the Argentine people days before the May 25 holiday.
“I bless you all with all my heart. The pope loves all Argentines. I wish you all enlightenment in this national holiday,” Karcher told news channel C5N.
Blaming the other
After the falsehood was exposed, news agency Télam deleted its story titled “Pope Francis sent a letter to Cristina and the people for May 25.” But by 8pm the pope’s fake statements had not been removed yet from the presidential news website.
Last night, the government’s Chief-of-Staff Oscar Parrilli and religious Affairs Secretary Guillermo Oliveri led a news conference whey they insisted that the letter was actually sent from the Papal Legation. The letter, Oliveri insisted, “was delivered by the same person who usually delivers the Papal Legation correspondence. (The Nuncio’s) secretary confirmed the letter had been sent from the Papal Legation.”
The Religious Affairs Secretary said the letter was about “the celebration of the (May 25) National Holiday and the president thought the people needed to know about the Holy See’s greetings.”Parrilli showed the letter now proven false to the audience and said it was “like any other notes coming from the Papal Legation.”
A journalist insisted that there were great differences between the official and bogus documents, including the signature and the letterhead.“Well, now we realize that,” the official replied. At press time, the identity of the letter’s author was yet to be determined.