When I first started seeing headlines about Pope Francis saying animals go to Heaven I pretty much ignored the headlines and their supposed content. I doesn’t take much intelligence to know that this would be either total fabrication or something close to that. The headlines have had staying power and have continued throughout the week in various forms of media.
Thus I figured it wouldn’t be long until Jimmy Akin had a post refuting the whole thing. Today he published Did Pope Francis say animals go to heaven? in which he summarizes at the start “But the thing is … the whole story is false.”
Now Pope Francis speeches are not known for their exactness and are prone to generalities over precision. So in the back of my mind I thought there was a possibility that this tendency lead to this story in the typical distorted amplification of his words. Wow not only did they invent Pope Francis’s words for the story but came up with some new ones for St. Paul. Must have been from the lost Gospel of Fido.
Now even if all animals went to Heaven I would have serious questions about the salvation of journalists and editors and members of news agencies. This is just another case in a long line of cases where journalists have no love for the truth or any concern regarding the truth. Maybe Pontius Pilate is the patron of journalists. This case being even more egregious than normal. No fact checking just passed along from one news agency to another. The false quote of St. Paul should have been a major tipoff. It is so obvious that zero attempt was made to acquire even the most basic facts or even spending 5 minutes on Google.
So how does such a story get passed on? No doubt there are multiple reasons. When it comes to reporting on the Church any stick will do to beat the Church including one used to play fetch with their pet dog. Page views and driving traffic for advertising dollars is probably another aspect. Sensationalism in journalism is nothing new, but click-bait headlines and stories low or totally barren of facts bring this to a new level and a declining one at that. Sure such stories are gist for the mill of headline writers.
I found CNN’s Did Pope Francis open a doggy door to heaven? to be the funniest of the lot. The story itself tried to update itself but failed even at that.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story, citing a newspaper, attributed a quote to Pope Francis. The quote actually comes from Pope Paul VI.
The problem with that is we have no evidence that Pope Paul VI said it either. As Jimmy Akin points out:
7) Did Pope Paul VI say to a bereaved boy what is attributed to him?
If you search the Vatican web site for the relevant quote, you get nothing.
At this point, I don’t see why anyone should trust anything attributed to a pope about animals going to heaven—not without a solid reference to a checkable, primary source document.
I have heard several attempts to try to side step this understanding especially when talking with children. A lot of people really want the idea of their pets going to Heaven. So it seems strange to me that if Blessed Paul VI ever said this that the quote would be in use in a larger circulation. C.S. Lewis also speculated on this in his book “The Problem of Pain.” Still it seems to me there is often more an emotional appeal to a theological appeal.
The CNN article goes on.
While Catholic teachings don’t reject the notion that animals have souls, traditional dogma has long held that animals don’t go to heaven.
Well Catholic teaching has long held distinctions between, plant souls, sensitive souls (such as animals), and the rational soul such as we have. All living things have souls as the soul is the form of the body. St. Thomas Aquinas detailed the thrust of the distinctions as we currently understand them. Still as far as I know there is no magisterial teaching on this as to the classes of souls. Much less a dogmatic (hey that’s pretty funny in context) teaching that animals don’t go to heaven. The CNN articles tries to be somewhat skeptical of the story, but still totally blunders in its corrections. As Mark Shea says about reporting on the Church is that you can take off 50 IQ points.
Another aspect of the ridiculous coverage of the Church that I have notice growing in the last year is how often so-called traditionalists fall for them. Most serious Catholics are highly skeptical of Church reporting for good reason. Yet I keep seeing more and more stories on “traditionalist” sites that take these stories as Gospel. Instead of any stick to beat the Church it is any stick that can beat Pope Francis. There not skeptical of the stories because they are skeptical of Pope Francis and see even bad reporting via confirmation bias. This annoys me since I have common cause with many of the liturgical complaints of “traditionalists”, but this hatred or loathing of Pope Francis makes them as agenda driven as most secular journalists.
On the lighter side the brilliant “Eye of the Tiber” presents Pope Francis confirms casts still going to Hell. I have a couple of cats, but that is still pretty funny. Surely the Cat-echism say otherwise.