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No, it's not a 'joint' encyclical

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 05, 2013

Just to guard against confusion, let’s get something straight: Lumen Fidei is not a “joint project” written by two Popes. There is only one Pope—Francis—and he is the author of this encyclical.

It’s no secret—in fact Pope Francis chose to emphasize it—that Pope Benedict XVI began drafting this encyclical before his resignation. But when he stepped down, Benedict handed the project over to his successor. Pope Francis was free to do whatever he wanted with the manuscript: to discard it, to amend it, or to complete it. With that transfer, it became his encyclical.

An encyclical is a teaching document, carrying the authority of the Roman Pontiff. Benedict relinquished that authority; the teaching authority behind this encyclical is that of Francis.

Yes, Benedict wrote the first draft—or at least much of it—and a discerning reader can detect the traces of his prose style. But it’s quite common for a Pontiff to have someone prepare an early draft of an encyclical; the final product remains the Pope’s responsibility.

In this case, the early draft was done by an earlier occupant of St. Peter’s throne. That’s not unprecedented. As John Allen reminds us, Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est picked up some themes from a draft begun by his own predecessor, Blessed John Paul II.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: mario.f.leblanc5598 - Jul. 05, 2013 9:01 PM ET USA

    As Cardinal Ouellet said (in French on Vatican Radio), Francis is in all of it while Benedict is in some parts of it. Let us read it as a teaching from Peter's Successor.

  • Posted by: tturner3998 - Jul. 05, 2013 3:32 PM ET USA

    Four hands? That sounds joint to me. Like a duet. Something Benedict would appreciate!