Fact-Checking What You Hear

Several months ago, I did a YouTube video about fact-checking what you hear about Pope Francis. It was the first YouTube video of its kind that I did, and perhaps someday I’ll look back and laugh at how unnatural and scripted it looked. (Oh wait, yesterday I did just that.)

But everything I said in the video could be said after yesterday’s plane interview, and so I took the opportunity this morning to email some parish leaders a written version of the same information.  I thought I’d copy it below here (with some additions).

I could take the time to address this latest incident in detail, but others are already doing that. And after all, the next time Pope Francis says something to stir everyone up, I can just pull this blog post back out…

Things to Remember when Reading Pope Francis

In case you haven’t noticed, Pope Francis creates buzz. Whether it’s what he does, what he says, or what people say he says, he makes a lot of headlines.

Whenever you hear Pope Francis said something, consider a few things:

Who is the source?
Before you believe what you hear, stop and think, “Who is saying this?”  I’m amazed how many people see something in the secular media and immediately take it for fact. Much of the secular media is written and produced by people who have no knowledge of the Catholic Church, our theology, or our traditions. This results in a lot of misunderstanding. Pope Francis surprises us, but if you hear something that contradicts Church teaching, it’s time to step back and reexamine who is telling you this and consider whether they misunderstood or, worse, purposefully skewed the story.

What is the context?
Reading the Pope in context is easier today than it ever has been. You can access his homilies, addresses, and interviews at http://www.news.va/en.
In this world of the soundbite, often one or two sentences are taken from a speech, a homily, or an interview without any of the surrounding context. This can skew the real meaning of what the Pope is saying.To whom is he speaking?
Remember: He’s the shepherd of the entire world. He’s not just speaking to us as Americans. He’s speaking to Africans, to Australians, to Europeans. At times, he may have a pointed message for a certain community or a certain class of people. At other times, he’s speaking very generally. He is not an American, nor does he closely follow every American news story or personality.

Seek out good Catholic resources
It is always good to seek out good Catholic commentary, analysis, and news. Besides the official Vatican news, there is also Zenit News Agency and Catholic News Agency. It’s also helpful to follow people like John Allen or Alan Holdren on Twitter.

Remember that he’s a man

At the end of the day, don’t forget that the Pope is a man. He’s not Jesus. Every word he says is not protected by some infallibility shield. The grace of the papacy does not mean every decision he makes is a good one or every comment he makes is an error-free one. He’s a person, just like you. Now, he prays more than I do, and the Holy Spirit does protect his words “when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.” But last I checked, statements in interviews, on airplanes, at Q&A sessions… don’t fall under that. I’m not saying whether he should or should not do those said interviews. Nor am I saying you always take what he says with a grain of salt because he’s just some dude. But before you leave the Church over an answer he gave to someone on an airplane, take a step back and pray.

This article also gives some helpful insight: Understanding Francis.

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