Is Popeface a Hoax?

On July 16, 2003 I posted the following entry on my weblog about Popeface:
Here's the latest thing making the rounds in Italy. It's Popeface! Supposedly a picture of the Pope taken during the '80s in which he's sticking his tongue out and making a strange grimace. Prints of it are being offered for sale at popeface.com. Of course, the seller doesn't specify how much he's asking for it. He only tells you to email him for more info at his hotmail account. And strangely, he's also offering the domain name 'popeface.com' for sale. So this has all the markings of a hoax. (Thanks to an anonymous Italian visitor for alerting me to this).

On August 3, 2003 I received this response from Angelo Tomaselli, webmaster of Popeface.com:
I'm the webmaster of www.popeface.com and the representative of the legitimate owner of the picture mocked by your site.
There are some great errors on your site, and I ask you to correct them as soon as possible.
1: we don't sell "prints", but, how you can read, we only sell the "unique, original, existing sample"
2: we don't understand why selling the internet domain can be a mark of a hoax: if we sell prints, why sell the internet site??? we only sell the one original sample, and that's the reason why the domain will became soon useless for us
3: the picture is presented together with an original appraisal by an important and well-known technical consultant
Therefore, we ask you to correct your opinion about this false hoax, or to be at least thoughtful about this real story.

My response to Angelo Tomaselli, August 3, 2003:
Dear Angelo,
Thanks for your message. I stand corrected regarding my statement that you were selling prints of the image. As your website states, only one original print is being offered for sale.
However, I still find myself a little skeptical of 'popeface.' Please don't take this personally, but the amount of false material that circulates via the internet demands such skepticism.
Perhaps you would be willing to answer some questions that I am sure must have crossed the minds of other visitors to your site. For instance, why was the negative of this image destroyed? And why are you choosing to sell the image via a website rather than through a more established venue such as an auction house?
Alex Boese

Angelo Tomaselli's reply, August 4, 2003:
Thanks for your fast and kind reply.
I willingly reply to your legitimate questions.
The negative has been destroyed because of the Pope order to destroy it, but, as you can understand, the picture was togheter with other pictures in a photo roll; the print of these pictures was assigned to an office, with the order to cut the grimace picture, and destroy the negative; but somebody decided to develop the picture before destroying the negative, and so he has kept this photo until now, because now he has financial needs. However, the developed picture (printed on kodak paper 20 years ago) has been appraised from a well known consultant to insure that it is original.
About the auction house, it was our first choice, but Christie's and Sotheby's have replied that they only trade with known artist or with historical things, and ebay has canceled our auction without giving a specific reason.
Here in Italy the Pope is so important and the picture is so incredible, that no newspaper has decided to publish this picture, or simply to talk about it, neither in a negative manner like your site!
If you want to ask for other information, please do it.