Pope speaks out against fake news

Pope Francis released a message for World Communications Day, titled,

“The truth will set you free” (Jn8:32)

Fake news and journalism for peace. 

Francis describes fake news as “spreading of disinformation on line or in traditional media.” Fake news is used to deceive and manipulate. It twists the truth. It identifies hatreds and biases, and feeds those hatreds and biases to promote its own agenda.

Truth is more than freedom from falsehood. Truth is also about relationships. Francis writes,

To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose. Truth, therefore, is not really grasped when it is imposed from without as something impersonal, but only when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another…

We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.

The evil of fake news lies in its insidious, snake-like nature. Francis turns to the book of Genesis, describing the methods of Satan in the Garden of Eden. Fake news looks like real news. It sounds like truth. But, it isn’t.

Francis calls for journalists to work harder in the service of truth, but the burden really lies with all of us. How educated are we in spotting fake news? Can we spot it in our own news feeds? Do we confirm the legitimacy of a news story or the reliability of an author before we share, retweet, or forward a story to others? Are we quick to be the first to share news before all the details have been reported? Do we respond to headlines without reading the full article?

It is possible to be emotional and rational in our writing. There is a way to seek truth in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. There is a way to promote dialogue rather than angry diatribes. Francis ends his message with a practical, inspirational guide, based on the prayer of St. Francis.

Make me an instrument of your peace…

where there is shouting, let us practise listening; where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony; where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity; where there is exclusion, let us off


writing for a “dissident” catholic publication

And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. Mark 3:25

More and more issues continue to highlight the divisiveness in our church. Yesterday, discussion boards were hopping over an article by Bishop Robert W. Finn for the online version of his diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Key. In The Bishop’s Role in Fostering the Mission of the Catholic Media, Bishop Finn takes on the National Catholic Reporter, whose offices are located in his diocese. He writes,

In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.

Thomas C. Fox, NCR Publisher, responded with an article titled Kansas City bishop says NCR undermines the faith,

NCR is proud to call itself a Catholic publication. We report and comment on church matters, including official teachings. We also report and comment on those who call into question some of these official teachings. Meanwhile, we belong to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ sanctioned Catholic Press Association. CPA judges have repeatedly cited us with awards for our coverage of the church.

As NCR editor-at-large (and former NCR editor) Tom Roberts recently wrote: “NCR’s bona fides rests on its nearly 50 years of professional journalism in service to the church … That both hierarchy and laity would find us, variously, a boon to faith and an annoyance, is to us a certain confirmation that we are fulfilling our intent to report the activity of the church as widely and deeply as possible.”

Not surprisingly, voices from both spectrums of the trad-lib scale were quick to either defend or denounce Bishop Finn’s judgment. Here are some of the more colorful descriptors given to the NCR by some of his supporters,

  • The NCR is contemptible
  • NCR is a scourge on the Holy Roman Catholic Church
  • This sorry rag is a nest of vicious ignoramuses who abuse the adjective “Catholic” while assiduously working toward the destruction of our Holy Mother Church
  • If Satan had started this paper himself, he couldn’t do a better job of destroying the faith of Catholics in the Catholic Church and God

Nasty? Yes. But I do give them points for creative use of the English language. One of my favorites, “this fishwrap of an excuse for a Catholic newspaper”, got my mouth watering with visions of fish and chips. Pass the salt and vinegar! 😉

Many Catholic women and men struggle with the ongoing abuse crisis, examples of dysfunctional leadership, and official church teachings on issues like women’s ordination, contraception, and same-sex marriage. The struggles and questions are not going to go away by stifling dialogue. Minds and hearts will not be changed with shouting matches, name calling and denouncements.

Many diocesan newspapers are replete with articles that revolve around the activities of the bishop. The only opinion pieces are those that come from the bishop’s desk, or are approved by him. The National Catholic Reporter, as an independent newspaper, presents national and international news both within and outside of the Catholic Church. Not beholden to diocesan public relations offices, they do not avoid the difficult news stories. And, they allow a dialogue to take place around the current head-lines.

This humble scribe is proud to be a wee voice within the NCR community.

NCR Today Blog

Readers and friends of catholic dialogue know that I am a big fan of the National Catholic Reporter down in the US. NCR commentaries and articles have often provided the spring-board and inspiration for my own blog posts. It is one of my go-to sources for international Catholic news as are The Tablet in the UK and our own Prairie Messenger here in Canada. Unlike some Diocesan sponsored newspapers, these journals provide a wide range of voices and critical reflections on the Church in our world. In the spirit of dialogue, I try to read a few more conservative journals also. I enjoy hearing all sides to an issue and seeing how diverse views are presented.

A couple of weeks ago, an editor from NCR sent me an email. He had come across the catholic dialogue blog and the Prairie Messenger columns. He liked what he saw, and wondered if I would be interested in joining the NCR Today Blog Team. In hind-sight, responding with an email that said ‘are you kidding me?’ was probably not the most professional response. But it was an honest one.

I continue to be amazed at the connections that are made through the internet, and in the blog world. The opportunities for open dialogue and networking are phenomenal. In the past, most church conversations took place in curial halls or behind pastoral doors. Today, passionate and committed lay women and men, religious and priests share their voices and share their faith across the miles and across cyber-space. True faith requires a journey of exploring and questioning. Faith grows when we have the opportunity to test out new thoughts on others, to enter into respectful dialogue that seeks understanding.

And we learn. Each and every day we learn from what others are saying and writing. I chose a relatively safe topic for my first NCR Today blog post – an invitation to share experiences on the New Roman Missal. It provided a lively discussion on this blog, and managed to nudge a healthy response on the NCR blog also. In fact, the responses are far wittier and interesting than the post itself! 😉

Here is the post,

20 Sundays of ‘And with your spirit’ | National Catholic Reporter.