Even Pope Francis isn’t immune from fake news. He was mocked last week in a spoof interview printed on a fake front page that looked like it came from the Vatican’s official publication, L’Osservatore Romano.
The ersatz news page was sent anonymously to several cardinals, bishops and monsignors as part of a strategy in the mounting opposition against the liberal pontiff by conservative Catholics, the Italian press reported.
The front-page “interview” mocks the pope over his liberal stances and is marked with headline jokes like “cherchez la femme.”
When he is asked in the article if divorced and remarried Catholics can still receive the sacrament of Communion — which has not been allowed in the past — fake Francis answers both yes and no. The piece is headlined “Ha risposto!” or “He answers!”
The gibe is apparently a reference to a written challenge on the issue last year from four conservative cardinals, including American Raymond Burke, the National Catholic Reporter noted. The pope in that case let his paper on “The Joy of the Family” — Amoris Laetitia — stand without further explanation.
Italian newspaper Il Messaggero first reported on the spoof Friday.
The fake news incident followed the appearance of several posters plastered to walls in Rome earlier this month attacking the Pope’s recent positions against conservative Catholics.
Catholic conservatives have been emboldened to take on Francis in part by the Trump administration and advisor Steve Bannon, the New Times reported last week. When Bannon, who is Catholic, led the ultraconservative website Breitbart, he cultivated relationships with conservative leaders of the church, including Cardinal Burke, according to the Times.
Pope Francis is known for his kinder, gentler Vatican administration, more welcoming to divorced and gay Catholics. He has also lashed out at inaction on climate change, and has been quick to criticize national policies he sees as harsh — including not-so-veiled criticisms of Donald Trump’s call for a wall on the border between Mexico and America.
“I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges,” he said — again — last week during one of his weekly catechism lessons, though he was careful never to use Trump’s name. He added: “A Christian would never say, ‘You will pay for that.’ Never.”
Pope Francis chose not to respond to challenges, but to leave his encyclical letter speak for itself.