The omission gave the impression that Francis flatly denied knowing anything about McCarrick, whereas the full comment, provided initially only in the Spanish version, makes clear he didn't remember. That distinction is at the root of the scandal over the Vatican's years-long cover-up of McCarrick.
The Vatican's communications coordinator, Andrea Tornielli, said Wednesday the discrepancy was due to the quick turnaround time for translating a lengthy interview from Spanish into Italian, and that the original Spanish was considered the text of reference.
Within minutes of being asked by The Associated Press, the full and corrected version of the quote appeared on the Italian site of the Vatican news portal, Vatican News. The interview was conducted May 21 by Valentina Alazraki, longtime Vatican correspondent of Mexico's Televisa.
The issue concerns claims by the retired Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that he told Francis in a June 2013 private audience that McCarrick had "corrupted a generation" of seminarians while he was a rising star in the U.S. church.
Francis in February defrocked McCarrick after a church investigation found that he had sexually abused minors as well as adult seminarians. The scandal has caused a credibility crisis in the Catholic hierarchy because it was an open secret for years in the Vatican and U.S. church circles that the retired archbishop of Washington pressured seminarians to share a bed with him. The accusations he abused a minor only surfaced in 2017.
Until the interview released Tuesday, Francis had refused to respond to Vigano's claims, telling journalists to investigate it themselves. In the Spanish version of the interview, Francis said he "knew nothing, obviously, nothing nothing" about McCarrick. "I have said it many times, that I didn't know, no idea. And when this guy (Vigano) said that he told me about it that day, that he came ... I don't remember if he told me about this. If it's true or not. No idea!"
The initial Italian version omitted Francis' reference to not remembering if Vigano told him about McCarrick, and only quoted Francis as saying he knew nothing about McCarrick. Vigano's allegations have been used by Francis' conservative critics to attack him, since they seemingly show Francis disregarded information that McCarrick preyed on seminarians and rehabilitated him from restrictions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.
As a result, Francis' claim to not remember if Vigano told him about McCarrick now amounts to his defense against such criticism. Last year, the Vatican communications office published a doctored photograph and a partial quote from a letter penned by retired Pope Benedict XVI that misrepresented its complete meaning. The then-prefect of the communications office had to resign as a result.