By Devin Watkins

As misinformation continues to swirl regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis is calling on journalists, especially Catholic media professionals, to verify the facts they report while adopting a respectful attitude toward those who produce and consume fake news.

Meeting with members of the International Catholic Media Consortium on Friday, the Pope reflected on the theme of communications and truth.

The consortium—run up by Aleteia and I Media, two news websites, and Verificat, a fact-checking agency—set up the “Catholic FactChecking” website in early 2021.

Unmasking fake news

Pope Francis lauded the organization’s goal of seeking to unmask “fake news and partial or misleading information” about Covid-19 vaccines and ethical questions related to them.

The group includes a scientific committee that draws upon the work of experts in epidemiology, theology, and bioethics.

The Pope noted that people are increasingly influenced by mass media and that reporters must therefore employ a rigorous method.

“Communicators must observe facts carefully, check their accuracy, make a critical evaluation of the sources of their information, and finally, pass on their findings. The burden of responsibility is all the greater when, as often happens, the reporter is called upon not only to give the simple facts of a case but also to explain its implications by providing commentary and the elements needed for a fair assessment. (Pope St. Paul VI’s 1972 message for World Communications Day)”

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Together

Pope Francis then reflected on the Catholic consortium’s stated goal of being “together for truth”.

Taking the first word of the slogan—“together”—he said Christian communicators who network and share knowledge are already offering “an initial form of witness.”

He lamented the “infodemic” plaguing the world alongside the pandemic, calling it “a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news.”

“To be properly informed, to be helped to understand situations based on scientific data and not fake news, is a human right. Correct information must be ensured above all to those who are less equipped, to the weakest and to those who are most vulnerable.”

For, not against

Turning to the second word—“for”—the Pope recalled that Christians are always “against injustice and lies, but always for persons.”

He urged members of the Catholic consortium to never overlook the “fundamental distinction between information and people”, even as they combat disinformation.

“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility.”

This approach calls for Christian reporters to be “evangelical in style, a builder of bridges, a promoter of peace, also and above all, in search for truth.”

Pope Francis also warned against a conflictual demeanor and “fideism” to science which is always in the process of “advancing towards the solution of problems.”

“Reality is always more complex than we think and we must respect the doubts, the concerns and the questions that people raise, seeking to accompany them without ever dismissing them.”

He therefore urged Christian journalists to try to accompany people by providing answers in “a serene and reasonable way”.

Truth, toward communion

Pope Francis then took up the final word—“truth”—to encourage the group’s goal of fact-checking, while warning against giving in to vested interests or commercial gains.

“The antidote to every type of falsification is to let ourselves be purified by the truth. For Christians, truth is never merely a concept having to do with judgment about things. Truth regards life as a whole.”

The Pope concluded his speech to the Catholic Media Consortium by recalling the pandemic’s victims and offering his encouragement for their work.

“To work in service to truth,” he said, “means to seek the things that foster communion and promote the good of all, not those that isolate, divide and oppose.”