November 25, 2017 9:00 am

Pope never said Jesus was a metaphor, as dodgy site claims

In this Wednesday, June 28, 2017 file photo, Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience, in St.Peter's Square, at the Vatican.

(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)
A A, a dodgy fake news site with a long record of infaflammatory claims that keep Snopes busy, can’t be accused of burying the lede.

Here’s how a recent story begins:

Story continues below

Pope Francis’s latest controversial statement – that “Jesus is metaphorical, not literal” – has pushed the Catholic Church to the verge of open mutiny, with multiple Vatican cardinals going on the record declaring Pope Francis is the false prophet foretold in holy scripture and prophecy.

Well, that escalated fast.

Who are the multiple cardinals who are on the record “declaring Pope Francis is the false prophet foretold in holy scripture and prophecy”?

Well, you can read the whole story without finding out, but on the way you’ll wade through a good deal of invention and distortion (Francis did compare Christ to a serpent, for example, but in the context of a sermon which you can read here.)

The story ends, almost inevitably, with a claim that the Pope called for a single world government, particularly for Americans. (The idea that secret forces are seeking a single world government is a very durable conspiracy theory.)

The current Pope has turned out to be more liberal than people who are less liberal than him would like him to be. As any pope would, Francis appeals more to some wings of the church than others, and the critics of the current papacy are found mostly on the right. Some of the more extreme ones are given to denouncing Francis as a heretic, and if you’re in the business of fabrications, it must be tempting to invent ever more outrageous imaginary heresies so that they can be indignantly reported and denounced.

READ MORE: Pope Francis accused of spreading heresy by conservative Catholic theologians

So the fake news pattern we see here is one we’ve seen in other contexts, which is inserting falsehood into a situation where there are existing divisions, in order to amplify them.

Francis became the subject of one of the better-known fake news stories of the U.S. 2016 election cycle, when one site claimed that he had endorsed Donald Trump. (An earlier fabrication claimed that he had endorsed Bernie Sanders.)

Perhaps understandably, fake news has Francis’s attention. A pastoral letter planned for early next year will offer ” … a reflection on the causes, the logic and the consequences of disinformation in the media,” pointing out that fake news “involves an often misleading distortion of facts, with possible repercussions at the level of individual and collective behaviour.”

READ MORE: Russian spokesperson’s TV comment referenced 2007 Photoshop fake as real<br />

WATCH: Colin Stretch, vice-president and general counsel at Facebook, faced an intense round of questioning from U.S. Senator Al Franken during a Senate hearing Monday into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

In fake news news:

READ MORE: In tragedy’s aftermath, fake news purveyors strike fast, exploiting Google and YouTube

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