- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Pope Francis wants social media companies to stop sharing “fake news,” pleading for such censorship of purportedly open forums “in the name of God.”

Ironically, “fake news” is a phrase frequently invoked by President Trump during his 2016 campaign, during his administration, and after leaving office. Francis reportedly was not a fan of the 45th U.S. president.

The 84-year-old leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics made his comments in a video address to the Vatican-sponsored “Fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements,” whose members he called “social poets.” Francis spoke in Spanish with English subtitles appearing onscreen.

“In the name of God, I ask the technology giants to stop exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation,” the pontiff said.

He also set his sights on general media outlets, declaring, “In the name of God, I ask the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged.”

Along with those blasts, Francis called for a raft of societal and business changes which at times read more like a socialist campaign platform than a religious manifesto.

“This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time,” he said.

The pope called on international lenders to cancel the debts of poor nations. He asked pharmaceutical companies to “release” their COVID-19 vaccine patents to increase distribution.

“In the name of God, I ask arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions dead,” he said.

Francis also issued a call for “powerful countries to stop aggression, blockades and unilateral sanctions against any country anywhere on earth. No to neo-colonialism. Conflicts must be resolved in multilateral fora such as the United Nations.”

The World Meeting of Popular Movements is designed to bring together leaders in the Roman Catholic Church and grassroots organizations combatting “an economy of exclusion and inequality” that Francis derided in his 2013 exhortation titled “Joy of the Gospel.”

Such organizations are distinguished by their “working for structural changes that promote social, economic and racial justice,” a website about the event indicated.

The call for an end to “fake news” comes roughly one month after he told 53 Jesuit priests during a visit to Bratislava, Slovakia, of his pique at Catholic media critics as doing “the work of the devil” for having “no hesitation” in broadcasting attacks on his eight-year pontificate.

Many observers believe Francis was referring to the Alabama-based EWTN Global Catholic Network, which says it is the world’s largest “religious media” organization active in more than 145 countries.

In Saturday’s remarks, Francis said his pleas for social justice stem from earlier pronouncements including the social teachings of Pope St. John Paul II.

“It saddens me that some members of the church get annoyed when we mention these guidelines that belong to the full tradition of the church,” Francis said. “But the pope must not stop mentioning this teaching, even if it often annoys people, because what is at stake is not the pope but the Gospel.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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