Fake news is going viral, but the Church can help provide an antidote.
That’s part of the message Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, the CEO of Salt and Light Television, shared during a visit to the west coast late May.
Fake news is “a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth,” Father Rosica told a full house at St. Mark’s College during a public lecture May 24.
“Pope Francis has argued that the most ‘radical antidote’ to the scourge of fake news lies in ‘purification by the truth.’ For us Catholic Christians, this simply means living the truth through faith in Jesus Christ, who said about himself that he is the truth and ‘the truth will set you free.’”
Fake news is far from a new phenomenon. “It didn’t start in newsrooms or other media agencies. It all began in the book of Genesis,” he said. “Pope Francis blamed the serpent in the Garden of Eden for hissing out the first fake news to Eve!”
The Church offers truth, goodness, and beauty – and through good communication and faithfulness to God’s plan, can help counteract the ill effects of fake news, he said.
“There is certainly a time for confronting the culture with the message of the Gospel and the Church, but such ‘confrontation’ must be done with civility, conviction, and charity,” said Father Rosica.
“We need to show the culture and the people of our times that we’re not against them, that we have a compelling story, and that the story can change their circumstances.”
He said Pope Francis has shown, in various ways in the last five years, how to evangelize in a way that touches hearts.
“To evangelize implies apostolic zeal,” Cardinal Jorge Bergolio said March 7, 2013, a few days before he was elected Pope.
“To evangelize implies a desire in the Church to come out of herself…. When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referent and then she gets sick. The evils that over the course of time happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in a self-reference and a sort of theological narcissism.”
He continued, saying that Jesus is described in the book of Revelation as a man who stands at the door and knocks to be let in. “I think of the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out,” said the cardinal.
“Thinking of the next Pope,” he said, not knowing he’d be elected to the role six days later, “he must be a man who from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ helps the Church to come out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother who lives from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”
Now a Pope, that same man is taking his own teachings seriously, said Father Rosica.
“Jesus asked his followers to go to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable. He did not sit around in Capernaum waiting for people to come to him,” he said, saying Pope Francis also makes a constant emphasis on going out to the peripheries.
Jesus “spoke in a language that people understood and used media that people found accessible. Using parables, he was not afraid of being seen as undignified by talking about commonplaces like mustard seeds or sheep.”
Pope Francis seems to follow that example, by speaking in easy-to-understand language and using symbolic language about pastors knowing “the smell of the sheep,” and the Church’s role as a “field hospital, not a museum.”
The digital world, plagued as it can be with fake news, is one of the places the Church must have a field hospital, said Father Rosica.
“The big battlefield before humanity is the digital world: one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter…. It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk, or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties.”
He continued: “In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need ‘a Church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus.’”
Father Rosica described the Pope as a defibrillator, who is not only surprising the world with his words and actions, but shocking energy into the Church.
“I think the Church needed to experience these aftershocks. They are never pleasant, but they often reverse death-dealing powers, unblock arteries of life, give us back our pulse, depolarize our atrophied muscles and help us to live again and love again. They invite us into a deep conversion of mind and heart.”
Father Rosica made these comments during St. Mark’s annual Carr Lecture, in honour of Father Henry Carr, also a Basilian priest and the college’s first principal.
Peter Meehan, the college’s current principal, agreed. “Pope Francis teaches us how to engage the culture around us,” he said.
“Many of the questions or statements of Pope Francis these past five years have often made us feel uneasy. Such is the role of prophets.”
Two days after the Carr Lecture, Father Rosica received an honorary doctorate from St. Mark’s, then caught a ferry to the Diocese of Victoria, where he gave a weeklong priests’ retreat.