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Helping Catholics Consider the Source

Recognizing misinformation and being surprised by truth

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As a deacon’s wife and a Catholic talk-show host, I find myself responding more and more to parishioners, as well as radio listeners, who have contacted me insisting I address or cover a serious matter they have learned of that they are sure will impact the Church. On one level, this is nothing new. As men and women in ministry, we regularly receive our share of often sincere questions based on something someone has read, heard or seen in one of the many media outlets. The concern for the Church is admirable.

But what is new, as well as troubling, is the amount of misinformation, outright fake news, along with the immediacy, with which one-too-many Catholics are accepting so-called stories or reports as fact. This should be taken seriously by clergy, as well as laity involved with passing on the Faith. What happened to critical thinking and the ability to, as the old saying goes, consider the source? Automatically believing without question and discernment could lead to doubts, cynicism, as well as a possible crisis of faith.

A startling example relates to an interview posted online this year with a well-known and much-loved actor who also happens to be a devout Catholic. The actor was sharing what he had been told concerning a very evil, well, downright horrific, practice, too horrendous to describe here, that has, according to his contacts, been occurring for years behind closed doors in Hollywood. The actor admitted that he had never actually seen the alleged rituals. He was only sharing what others were also told. His stories were based on hearsay and rumors, at best. He had no information regarding the who, where, why, what, when and how? Again, only hearsay. It was disappointing as this actor has done so much good. But his credibility was quickly attacked in the secular media, due to the lack of information he provided.

That did not stop several of my listeners, as well as followers on Facebook, from insisting I cover the story on my radio program. One listener even went so far as to say both Catholic media and the Vatican need to be “proclaim[ed] on the housetops,” as St. Matthew reminds us in Matthew 10:27.

I tried to explain, with little success, that any media, especially Catholic media, that jumps on a story without providing evidence to back it up, especially when extremely shocking allegations are involved, risks not only the outlet’s reputation, but hurting others by bearing false witness, among other issues.

That is why I so appreciated the pope’s 2021 World Communications Day statement, “Come and See: Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are.” As a former secular journalist, this reminded me of the almost daily battles I used to face with news directors and producers who were a lot like those who want to go forward with preconceived notions or stories, without allowing the reporter to “come and see,” or to check it out firsthand, a simple but crucial step that we should all do with media consumption as well as interpersonal communication.

Pope Francis writes: “The invitation to ‘come and see,’ which was part of those first moving encounters of Jesus with the disciples, is also the method for all authentic human communications. In order to tell the truth of life that becomes history (cf. Message for the 54th World Communication Day, Jan. 24, 2020), it is necessary to move beyond the complacent attitude that we ‘already know’ certain things. Instead, we need to go and see them for ourselves, to spend time with people, to listen to their stories and to confront reality, which always in some way surprises us.”

We all need to allow ourselves to be surprised by the facts rather than misguided by fiction, even when the fiction might be more dramatic and affirm preconceived fears or opinions. Sharing this year’s World Communications Day statement with those we serve in the Church is a great way to get this started.

TERESA TOMEO is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95). She is married to Deacon Dom Pastore, an ordained deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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