FactCheck Social Media

Pope post is a hoax of biblical proportions

2020-11-17 16:08:28

The Statement

A social media post claims Pope Francis has cancelled the Bible and proposed a new book to take its place.

The post features a photo of Pope Francis and a screenshot of an article from April 2018, which is headlined: “Pope Francis cancels The Bible and proposes to create a new book.”

The article, dated April 2, 2018, reads, “Pope Francis has surprised the world today by announcing that The Bible is totally outdated and needs radical change, so The Bible is officially canceled and it’s announced a meeting between the highest personalities of the church where it will be decided the book that will be replace it, its name and its content.”

Above the article is a caption which reads, “dear friends the time is near/repent while you still can/2 THESSALONIANS 2:3.. let no man deceive you by any means. For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition…”

The post was shared by a Facebook user in Fiji to the public group Adventist Living, which is described as “dedicated to Seventh-Day Adventist living to spread the gospel and the good news through the principles taught in the Bible”. The group has more than 69,000 members.

Some of the comments on the post call out the claims as false, while others criticise the Pope for his purported action.

At the time of publication, the November 5 post had been shared more than 140 times and drawn more than 120 comments, 180 interactions and 24,000 views.

A Facebook post
 A post claims Pope Francis has cancelled the Bible and proposed a new book to take its place. 

The Analysis

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has embarked on a reform agenda within the Vatican and more widely the Catholic Church, drawing criticism from conservative church figures for his stance on issues such as same-sex civil unions.

Reformist intentions aside, cancelling the Bible and replacing it with a new book is not part of his plans.

The source of the post’s article, Thereisnews.com, describes itself on its legal disclaimer page as “a humor site whose purpose is entertainment”, adding: “The content of TIN is fiction and does not correspond to reality.”

Under its header, including on the page that hosts the article about the Pope, the site carries the tagline, “Not real, but so funny.”

The post dates back to at least 2018 and has previously been debunked as satirical here, here, here, here and here.

Far from cancelling the Bible, Pope Francis continues to quote from the religious text in his homilies. For example, the Pope’s November 15 homily includes at least seven direct biblical references.

The caption introducing the post’s article are from the New Testament book 2 Thessalonians 2.3, echoing what is known as “end times theology”, or the belief in a series of events and signs that herald the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ to liberate his followers.

Dr Scott Kirkland, lecturer in practical theology and ethics at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, said the post’s article is a “fake story”.

“The Pope hasn’t declared that the Bible needs to be replaced,” he told AAP FactCheck.

“Francis has actually been quite self-conscious of using the Bible in order to make a case for several important developments in Catholic theology and teaching, not least concerning the environment.”

Dr Kirkland said the post plays on anxieties about the papacy, and it appeals to an Adventist school of belief in which the antichrist is an important precursor to Christ’s return.

“This article, which is written as satire, is interpreted through this theological lens as both a sign of something terrible – the antichrist – but also as something for them strangely hopeful,” he said.

Reverend Dr Kevin Waldie, a biblical studies lecturer at the Catholic Good Shepherd College in Auckland, said the post completely misrepresents the Pope’s public stance on the authority of the Bible.

“Anyone familiar with the documentation that Pope Francis has been issuing in recent times would see that quite clearly his thinking is based on the biblical text itself,” Dr Waldie told AAP FactCheck in a phone interview.

He said the post had more to do with something deep-seated in evangelical fundamentalism’s view of Catholicism.

“There’s something there that lacks respect, possibly, for the tradition that is witnessed through the spoken word of Pope Francis and through the documentation.”

Pope Francis waves to the faithful - St Peter's Square, Vatican City.
 Pope Francis continues to quote from the Bible during his homilies. 

The Verdict

The source of the Facebook post is a satirical article that does not claim to be factual. Biblical scholars told AAP FactCheck its re-emergence on social media plays on anxieties among some Christians about the direction of the papacy.

Satire – The content uses irony, exaggeration, or absurdity for criticism or awareness, particularly in the context of political, religious, or social issues, but a reasonable user would not immediately understand it to be satirical.

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