As a professional journalist covering the Vatican, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure you have accurate, reliable sources when trying to figure out what the Pope really said.
My job literally requires knowing every detail of how Pope Francis will spend his days, weeks and months. That includes knowing on a daily basis everything from who he will meet with, what speeches he will give, whether or not he’s on schedule, sometimes where he ate lunch, and reading absolutely everything that he says or writes to everyone, in English, Spanish and Italian. I often have to translate his homilies and speeches myself because an official English translation can be slow to come from the Vatican, if it comes at all.
As you can imagine, I have gotten to know our beloved pontiff pretty well, and I think that perhaps one of the most important things to keep in mind for Pope Francis when reading about something he said is the context in which he said it. That should go as a general rule for everything you read in the news, but especially with Pope Francis. Many of the things he says are directed to a specific group of people, or are said in response to a specific question, so they don’t really make sense outside of the full context because he uses words, images and examples based off of who his audience is.
The Pope Said What?! 8 Tips To Clarify Pope Francis’ Words
What Pope Francis told journalists on his way back from the Philippines: “Some think that – excuse the language – that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”
When left with just that, the Pope’s words make almost no sense and it almost seems like he’s taking a jab at families with many children. However, if we look at the context of that question, we see that Pope Francis was talking to a Filipino journalist who asked him a question about Filipinos’ concern that the tendency to have large families is the reason for much of the poverty in the country.
Plus, if the reader skims down just a bit further, they will also read the part in which the Pope said that “let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.” If the reader goes through the entire text they will also realize that the Pope says contraception is not a means of responsible parenthood either, if that part was even included in the article.
Tips for knowing when something the Pope said is true or not
These 8 tips given in the info-gram above are essential to making sure what you’re hearing is correct, but here I highlight just a few:
1. Read the full article – reiterating what I said about context earlier, reading the entire article to get the context of what the Pope says is crucial. If the full text of his interview or speech isn’t available, try to find it.
2. Doubt & Don’t Share – when you read a headline or article that somehow implies the Pope is changing Church teaching or saying something that appears to support a specific party, group or platform, question it and look for an article that gives you the full picture.
3. Google – When you see something questionable, look it up from a reliable agency. The best source is always the Vatican itself, and they have many different websites in which news is published. All secular news outlets should be checked with a more reliable source for content and full context.
4. Share and Correct – Once you find the correct information or once you have the full scope of what the Pope said, please share that link/source, and please, please, please in all charity correct someone if you see that they either have or are promoting something that isn’t right.
5. Learn – try and find good and reliable sources to begin with, so that confusion and speculation can be avoided.