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Pope Francis: Witness to the truth by exposing ‘fake news’

Writing in his World Communications Day message, released on Jan. 23, the pope said that “the risk of misinformation being spread on social media” was now widely recognized.

Pope Francis speaks during his weekly general audience at the Vatican in this Nov. 11, 2020, file photo. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2021 / 04:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis issued a new warning about misinformation on Saturday, weeks after he was the subject of a viral “fake news” story.

Writing in his World Communications Day message, released on Jan. 23, the pope said that “the risk of misinformation being spread on social media” was now widely recognized.

“We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism,” he wrote.

“Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received.”

“All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.”

Earlier this month a false report that Italian police had arrested the pope amid a Vatican “blackout” was widely shared on the internet. The report was posted on a Canadian website which had also previously posted a fictitious claim that former U.S. President Barack Obama had been arrested on espionage charges.

In his message, the pope also stressed the internet’s positive qualities.

“Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful,” he said.

“We can think of certain emergency situations where the internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices. It is a powerful tool, which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers.”

“Potentially we can all become witnesses to events that otherwise would be overlooked by the traditional media, offer a contribution to society and highlight more stories, including positive ones.”

The pope signed the message on Jan. 23, the Vigil of the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists.

World Communications Day, established by Pope Paul VI in 1967, will be celebrated in many countries this year on Sunday, May 16. The day will be observed as the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in places where it is transferred from Thursday, May 13 to Sunday.

In his message, Pope Francis issued an impassioned call to journalists to recommit themselves to “original investigative reporting.”

“Insightful voices have long expressed concern about the risk that original investigative reporting in newspapers and television, radio and web newscasts is being replaced by a reportage that adheres to a standard, often tendentious narrative,” he wrote.

“This approach is less and less capable of grasping the truth of things and the concrete lives of people, much less the more serious social phenomena or positive movements at the grassroots level.”

He continued: “The crisis of the publishing industry risks leading to a reportage created in newsrooms, in front of personal or company computers and on social networks, without ever ‘hitting the streets,’ meeting people face to face to research stories or to verify certain situations first-hand.”

“Unless we open ourselves to this kind of encounter, we remain mere spectators, for all the technical innovations that enable us to feel immersed in a larger and more immediate reality.”

“Any instrument proves useful and valuable only to the extent that it motivates us to go out and see things that otherwise we would not know about, to post on the internet news that would not be available elsewhere, to allow for encounters that otherwise would never happen.”

Pope Francis suggested specific topics for journalists to investigate.

He said: “We can risk reporting the pandemic, and indeed every crisis, only through the lens of the richer nations, of ‘keeping two sets of books.’ For example, there is the question of vaccines, and medical care in general, which risks excluding the poorer peoples.”

“Who would keep us informed about the long wait for treatment in the poverty-stricken villages of Asia, Latin America and Africa? Social and economic differences on the global level risk dictating the order of distribution of anti-COVID vaccines, with the poor always at the end of the line and the right to universal healthcare affirmed in principle, but stripped of real effect.”

“Yet even in the world of the more fortunate, the social tragedy of families rapidly slipping into poverty remains largely hidden; people who are no longer ashamed to wait in line before charitable organizations in order to receive a package of provisions do not tend to make news.”

The pope also praised the “courage and commitment” of journalists, camera operators, editors, and directors who risk their lives to uncover the truth.

“Thanks to their efforts, we now know, for example, about the hardships endured by persecuted minorities in various parts of the world, numerous cases of oppression and injustice inflicted on the poor and on the environment, and many wars that otherwise would be overlooked,” he said.

“It would be a loss not only for news reporting, but for society and for democracy as a whole, were those voices to fade away. Our entire human family would be impoverished.”

The theme of this year’s World Communications Day, the 55th commemoration, is “‘Come and See’ (Jn 1:46) Communicating by Encountering People as They Are.”

The pope quoted approvingly advice that the Spanish Blessed Manuel Lozano Garrido (1920-1971) once gave fellow journalists: “Open your eyes with wonder to what you see, let your hands touch the freshness and vitality of things, so that when others read what you write, they too can touch first-hand the vibrant miracle of life.”

Francis also cited William Shakespeare as he condemned the “empty rhetoric” that he said abounded in public life.

Quoting from “The Merchant of Venice,” the pope wrote: “This or that one ‘speaks an infinite deal of nothing… His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.’”

“The blistering words of the English playwright also apply to us as Christian communicators. The Good News of the Gospel spread throughout the world as a result of person-to-person, heart-to-heart encounters with men and women who accepted the invitation to ‘come and see,’ and were struck by the ‘surplus’ of humanity that shone through the gaze, the speech and the gestures of those who bore witness to Jesus Christ.”

The pope said that all Christians faced a challenge: “to communicate by encountering people, where they are and as they are.”

He concluded with a prayer:

Lord, teach us to move beyond ourselves,
and to set out in search of truth.
Teach us to go out and see,
teach us to listen,
not to entertain prejudices
or draw hasty conclusions.
Teach us to go where no one else will go,
to take the time needed to understand,
to pay attention to the essentials,
not to be distracted by the superfluous,
to distinguish deceptive appearances from the truth.
Grant us the grace to recognize your dwelling places in our world
and the honesty needed to tell others what we have seen.


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21 Comments

    • This is a critical issue in the times we live given the functioning of the internet and its role in creating and sustaining a narrative. Critical to the healthy functioning of a democracy and critical to all who seek the truth.
      Given the civil unrest that has culminated in the storming of Capital Hill, the veracity of claims made that the “election was stolen” must be investigated in a process that is accountable, has integrity and credibility.

      https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-05/voting-company-smartmatic-sues-fox-rudy-giuliani-sidney-powell/13124300
      A voting technology company is suing Fox News and three of its hosts, as well as two former lawyers for former president Donald Trump, claiming the defendants conspired to spread false claims that the company helped “steal” the 2020 US presidential election.
      Smartmatic USA claims Fox News aired 13 reports falsely claiming it stole the 2020 vote in partnership with the Venezuelan Government.
      The company’s voting machines were only used in Los Angeles County, a Democratic stronghold.
      This alleged “disinformation campaign” continued even after then-attorney-general William Barr said the Department of Justice could find no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

  1. “God willed all religions.”
    Now that is Fake News, and I wonder when PF will correct himself, for the sake of the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls, the Supreme Law of the Church.

    Waiting………..waiting………..waiting……….

      • As a lay reader without formal credentials, my distinct recollection is that translations of Fratelli tutti (Fellowship and Social Fraternity, Oct. 3, 2020), elaborating on the Abu Dhabi Declaration of 2019, used the term “pluralism” of religions.

        Now, in the same (?) Section 3, we possibly find a refinement/correction: “There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion.”

        http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html

        But, in either event, did St. Thomas faith “transcend” his Faith in Christ as toward some other “openness of heart” (and its irreducible differences with, say, Islam); and did he not present himself to the Sultan Malek al-Kamil at Damietta on the Nile Delta, then under siege by an army of the Fifth Crusade, in an effort to convert the Sultan to the peace of Christ, not simply to propose a more humanistic-based sharing of presumably underlying fraternity?

        A tough message to profess and propose—Faith in Christ—without ambiguity, in our dismantled and dangerous 21st-century world.

        Perhaps the original wording (?) was only a regrettable dull note in a very long and far-reaching encyclical worthy of respect…Or, perhaps in this instance such strategic and possibly pivotal editorial (?) ambiguity has some other explanation–inserting as it did an implied equivalence among religions, as parallel to other essentially sociological differences listed in the same phrase: “origins, nationality, and colour”.

        Critics saw/see yet another hint toward a kitchen-blender world of cosmopolitan indifference, and muted messaging even within parts of the Church, toward the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

  2. The schoolmarm-in-chief comments on yet another matter that has nothing whatever to do with the gospel.I’m thinking maybe we ought to do without popes for a while.

  3. Witness to truth by abandoning ecclesiastical subterfuge, clerical double speak, imperial egoism and academic speculation and vacuous personal notions masqued as “theology.” Then one could pursue a life course for which one is suited as opposed to that to which one presently covetously clings.

  4. With the help of Pope Francis, the media, the Party here in America and of course the Big tech crowd we are well on our way to transitioning to Newspeak by the goal of 2050. The truth is becoming fake news. Throw in the Vichy Bishops and priests within Holy Mother Church it seems like we will have the opportunity to becomes martyrs. Lode Jesus give the strength.

  5. What is missing here is the component of narrative, that which colors “news” to the point of creating disinformation. The pope’s words are a good reminder. I’d add that we should avoid slandering motives or labeling and name calling, even of those we suspect. Can you imagine how much news copy on Trump would evaporate if those rules applied? Even some of the Pope’s material — esp. on trade — would become more brief. But probably the best way to avoid fake news is to limit our own actual consumption of news in general, and to take everything shared with a grain of salt. In an era when journalist are themselves immersed in the ideological conflicts roiling the world, real news voices are more rare than common.

  6. Perhaps it is time for the laity to stop providing financial support to corrupt members of the Church hierarchy and corrupt organizations in the Church. Yes, please support the Church. But we should only send our donations to Catholic groups, societies, orders, schools, charities, newspapers, websites, and bishops that we know are truly serving the Church and following the teachings of Christ. What would happen if we stopped sending money to general appeals from the Vatican and the USCCB? Even if particular monies do get used for a good cause, it only frees up other monies for corrupt use. It is a crime that only about 10% of Peter’s Pence has been used for the poor in the time of Pope Francis’s leadership. Consider your local bishop. He might occasionally make a token mention of how terrible abortion is, but is that enough? Is he calling out the fake Catholicism of Biden, Pelosi, and Cuomo? Is he criticizing the Vatican’s abandonment of the suffering Christians in China with the secret agreement that the Chinese government is using to further the persecution? Is he condemning the celebrity priests like Father Martin who promote sin that leads souls to hell? Is he condemning and publicly identifying the corrupt bishops who persecute faithful priests and seminarians while protecting other bishops and priest who abuse seminarians and young members of their congregations? Did he criticize the pope and clergy who attended worship services for the Pachamama and the placement of idols in a Catholic Church on a side altar? Has he criticized the schismatic German bishops conference? If not, then please consider sending your money to faithful Catholic groups and leaders instead.

  7. For one who jumps on every western European progressive band-wagon and hungers for applause from the very elements of our culture that hate Catholicism, he, of all people, has the nerve to pray that others “distinguish deceptive appearances from the truth.” What a sad, delusional man.

  8. Fake news can disturb and mislead. Fake news creators need to be evangelized. True conversion can lead to regaining a sense of right and wrong, good or bad, useful or harmful, truthful or untruthful. Fake news creators and believers in fake news have the potential to render quality service to fellow beings on Planet Earth our common home.

  9. After all of Francis blunders, rewarding of the the bad and punishing the good, not clarifying what he needs to clarify etc… He has made himself an easy target for fake News. If I read something negative about Francis today, I would be the first to believe it. Francis has done this to himself he has no one else to blame. Pray for his conversion.

  10. Another straw man sideshow remark by a confused elderly priest who has lost his way.
    Mr Francis should genuinely seek other employment.

  11. Some people become caricatures of themselves.

    Note the pontiff’s clenched fist. A picture is worth a thousand words. True or false?

  12. ‘Grant us the grace to recognize Your dwelling places in our world and the honesty needed to tell others what we have seen ..’- gracious words , from one who has seen what The Divine Will is and living in same , holding onto same tightly , like a child who holds the Finger of The Father ..asking for power , on behalf of all ,esp. for those who are holding onto hands with claws , even unknowingly , thus spewing forth the related torrents ..
    The nerve pain , from the back – ? brought on by those who struggle to slip away , instead of being solid support , in His Will..and that pain too , held in the hands, to hand over to Him , to be in One Will with that of The Mother , to thus help relieve many who are held in the paws of death ..

    Those who are afflicted in similar pains like of the Holy Father – hope they would look into areas such as the use of Magnesium chloride flakes on the body as salt water massage , to help correct the very prevalent low levels of same leading to many health issues including disc pain and also include B12 as chewable supplement , bit of turmeric and pepper ( with ginger powder too ) boiled in some milk and water with some added honey , as another good remedy ; there is also the biblical remedy of Indian Mulberry , as noni juice , powder etc : too .

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/01/25/pope-francis-may-the-holy-trinity-make-christians-grow-in-unity/

    Above – another sample of the good and true news that The Spirit blesses us with through the Holy Father , as the Unity , in the Divine Will of the Most Holy Trinity , to help persons and nations to be thus set free from the self will and its effects .
    Love and glory to You Lord ,in and for the Holy Father and The Church .

  13. This from the man who changed the CCC to reflect his opinion on the moral liceity of capital punishment rather than what the Church has taught for 2000 years about the matter? Who inserted a puzzling and possibly heretical notion about adulterous relationships in one of his encyclicals and then doubled down on that heretical notion in a letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires? Who has given interview after interview to an Italian journalist whose stock in trade is sensationalism? Who told us that, despite what we have all seen on video of the garden party given at the Vatican, those present weren’t worshipping the Pachamama? The man who refuses to reveal the contents of the McCarrick-Red China deal as the Communists persecute the Church inside their borders? Who refuses to meet with Cardinal Zen to explain himself? THIS is the man who lectures us about the dangers of fake news now? Really?

    It takes authentic chutzpah to deliver to the world a message like this after all that has happened since early 2013. Francis runs a pontificate filled with more smoke and mirrors than the old Barnum and Bailey Circus.

    • Funny how he makes no reference to the suffering TRUE Catholics in China. Shouldn’t there be plenty of real journalism about that? How about the new “Bishops” replacing those set aside as the Vatican plays love with China while the Church bleeds?

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