A recent controversy over whether Pope Francis said that dogs go to heaven shows how deeply the media has bought into its own narrative about the pontiff’s brand of feel-good religion. Last week many media outlets reported that Francis told a boy whose dog had died that “one day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” He was said to have supported this statement by a reference to a passage in Bible written by Saint Paul. Reaction was swift: spiritual but not religious types got the warm fuzzies, while Catholic traditionalists sighed heavily under the burden of having such a Pope.But the whole story was completely false. Pope Francis not only never said it; he never talked to a boy with a dead dog at all. Here’s the correction the NYT had to run on its story:
An earlier version of this article misstated the circumstances of Pope Francis’ remarks. He made them in a general audience at the Vatican, not in consoling a distraught boy whose dog had died. The article also misstated what Francis is known to have said. According to Vatican Radio, Francis said: “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us,” which was interpreted to mean he believes animals go to heaven. Francis is not known to have said: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.’’ (Those remarks were once made by Pope Paul VI to a distraught child, and were cited in a Corriere della Sera article that concluded Francis believes animals go to heaven.) An earlier version also referred incompletely to the largest animal protection group in the United States. It is the Humane Society of the United States, not just the Humane Society.
Religion News Service has more on how the story reached the NYT. The piece shows how credulous many Westerners are about Pope Francis, ready to report on totally insufficient evidence that Francis has just confirmed another one of their sentiments. This is not the first time this has happened, and there is no sign that it will be the last. The media have fallen in love with their own creation—the softhearted, easygoing, liberal pope they’ve long been waiting for—and are willing uncritically to run a story, any story, that puts him on display.