The British press regularly exaggerates or even fabricates stories about the Royal Family, which are then repeated around the world. On occasions the Palace will deny the story. If the denial is published, it never receives anything like the prominence the original story received.
A story about Prince Charles’s papal audience, King Henry VIII’s divorce and Pope Benedict’s faux pas gift in The Times (20/4) had, as the Catholic News Service said and the headline (“The Pope’s gift for Charles and Camilla — his view on divorce”) indicated, all the ingredients of a Fleet Street scoop.
The problem was, the report was”completely untrue and has no basis whatsoever in fact,” according to the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.
“I would ask you to issue an immediate and unambiguous denial,” said Father Lombardi’s letter to the Times editor-in-chief.
The Catholic News Service asks if the Vatican is getting fed up with inaccurate reporting.
The Times story said that when Prince Charles comes to the Vatican next week, Pope Benedict planned to present him with ”a gift that may strike an unwelcome chord”: a facsimile of the 1530 appeal by English peers to Pope Clement VII asking for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
The Times said the Pope’s gift appeared to be either “an unfortunate accident or a piece of mischievous theatre.”
As the CNS says it may be a sign of the times that the Vatican issued a sharply worded request for a retraction of the story only a few hours after it appeared in print. The reporter said he could not remember the last time the Vatican Press Office made public a letter of complaint to a major news outlet.
This is a good sign. It may even bring the press back to its duty, which in the nineteenth century The Times itself declared to be to obtain the most correct intelligence of the events of the day, and by publishing them, make them the property of the nation.