POPE CITES “FAKE NEWS” AND A FRANCISCAN CALL FOR CONVERSION TO THE “GOOD NEWS”
By Bill Schmitt
Pope Francis has released a timely prescription for a cultural ailment that has deterred the work of evangelization by poisoning public discourse. Using a popular term, he has blamed “fake news”—and today’s even broader epidemic of inauthentic journalism—for eroding the atmosphere of truth and trust which is indispensable for following the Good News in the footsteps of St. Francis.
The Pope’s just-released message for the 2018 World Day of Social Communications offers a galvanizing warning for producers and consumers of the torrents of information found in the news media around the clock. Too often, he says, this flood of dubious facts fosters neither proper human formation nor the possibility of transformation, but instead springs from the “Father of Lies” and encourages “anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration.”
Like a wise doctor with a holistic understanding of the body politic, and like a compassionate pastor appealing to our better instincts while calling us to conversion, Pope Francis delivers a brilliant diagnosis that one hopes will guide a renewal of journalism as a profession and vocation. Advocates for this renewal need to hear this assessment; let’s hope the victims of the disinformation disease have not already lost the ability to listen, to ponder with an open mind and accept truths requiring metanoia.
As newsboys on city street corners used to shout as they sold The Tribune or The Inquirer or The Herald, “Read all about it!” You can find the Pope’s message at the Vatican news site. Pay attention to ultimately upbeat phrases with which the Pope suggests steps toward a cure for our culture’s bad case of consumption. (I use that term here with reference to an old definition—an illness in which the patient wastes away—and to the current definition, which sometimes signals greed, self-centeredness and marketing through weaponized truth claims.)
Savor hopeful phrases like these from the papal message, as quoted by The National Catholic Register:
- “education for trust”
- “journalism for peace”
- “protectors of news”
- “a journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all”
Champions for evangelization—bringing the Church’s faith and reason to those who hunger for real relationships, especially with the Way, the Truth and the Life—will also draw inspiration from the Pope’s expressions of healthful human ecology. For one thing, the use of these phrases which embody beauty and goodness is a foretaste of dynamic dialogue again refreshing the public square. It is also a recollection of the Scriptural joy about Christ, the eternal Word of God, and the power of this Word to kindle faithful solidarity.
The crowning gift Pope Francis bestows upon our current era of alt-communication, where our hearts are hardened and our arteries of collaboration have clogged, is his closing prayer. In an ingenious adaptation of the “Peace Prayer of Saint Francis,” he climaxes the World Day of Social Communications message with calls to radical action like these:
- “May our words be seeds of goodness for the world.”
- “Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony.”
- “Where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity.”
- “Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety.”
- “Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions.”
- “Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.”
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