Encyclileaks: Was the ‘Laudato Si’ Leak a Sin or Just a Scoop?

Pope Francis © European Union 2014 - European Parliament.

In the days before the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudauto Si, the level of hype among the Catholic journalists and religion writers on my Twitter feed approached Star Wars levels with astonishing rapidity.

A papal encyclical arguably hadn’t been the subject of this much conjecture since Humanae Vitae in 1968, far before the dawn of social media. Conjectures piled up upon assumptions, and thousands of writers were looking forward to a sleepless night of encyclical reading followed by the bleary-eyed composition of hot takes and appearances on talk shows and radio on the morning of June 18, when the Vatican officially released it to the world.

Then something weird happened: the encyclical leaked three days early.

The journalist who wrote an introduction to the leaked draft in the Italian magazine L’Espresso, Sandro Magister, quickly was stripped of his Vatican press credentials. Magister, according to an anonymous Vatican source quoted in the Guardian, “is more of a traditionalist. He loved Benedict and is very, very critical of Francis … he has got an agenda.”

So who within the Vatican leaked the encyclical to Magister? According to Robert Mickens, it was “somebody… with the obvious intention of embarrassing the Pope.”

For all of Pope Francis’ global popularity, within the Vatican and among circles of conservative and traditionalist Catholic journalists (and Fox News talking heads), he’s criticized as everything from a danger to an embarrassment.

But Encyclileak quickly led to a conundrum among Catholic journalists.

Was writing about a leaked encyclical a sin, a breach of ethics, or was it merely taking advantage of a journalistic scoop?

The National Catholic Reporter’s Rome correspondent Joshua McElwee detailed some of those questions, sometimes live from the Vatican press room:

Aside from the screaming matches taking place in Rome, there was one other problem: the leaked version was in Italian, thus necessitating some creative workarounds for those who decided to write about it but hadn’t bothered to learn Italian first.

But whether one chose to read and write about the leaked version or not, the question remained: was the leak an ethical violation?

Commonweal’s Grant Gallicho said that Magister actually was running with a “legitimate scoop” and that Holy See spokesman Monsignor Frederico Lombardi (a Jesuit) had erred in his use of the term “embargo.”

In the end, however, the leak revealed two things: first, that tensions at the Vatican still run deep, and that clergy who serve the Pope are not innocent when it comes to betraying one another’s trust.

And second, that leaks of any sort, from Wiki to Vati to pretty much any album released by a musician since the advent of MP3s present a dilemma to writers. Our decisions to cover leaks have repercussions, both good and bad.

In the end, Encyclileak flared briefly, only to be snuffed out by tragedy.

On the same day, it was announced that Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt had resigned after years of revelations about his diocese’s failure to protect children from clergy sexual abuse, revealing the painful legacy of one of institutional Catholicism’s most shameful sins.

And in even more devastating news, on the night before the encyclical officially was released, a white supremacist gunman walked into an AME church in Charleston, S.C., where black parishioners had welcomed him into a Bible study, and then opened fire, massacring nine of them.

Francis’ encyclical officially arrived the next morning, but for many who watched the coverage of Charleston unfold in horror, it arrived to a mourning, wounded audience—the very same broken, fractured world Pope Francis describes in Laudauto Si.


  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    “Was writing about a leaked encyclical a sin, a breach of ethics, or was it merely taking advantage of a journalistic scoop?”

    Sin is defined as transgression against a god’s will. Nothing that happens in a universe created by an omniscient and omnipotent entity can happen exterior to that sort of entity. The leak was in full accord with the god’s will and was and is innately divine.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    The church defines it that way, and that makes the church god. I don’t attend church, so I think God doesn’t care.

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