“Pope Ratzinger died at the age of 90,” was the fake news published by Il Quotidiano del Lazio on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. The message was published on social media then deleted later that day.
On the evening of March 27, 2018, the Holy See published a scathing denial, with a picture of Francis’ visit to the pope emeritus on the afternoon of the same day, Holy Tuesday.
The Italian newspaper lost no time publishing a statement to correct its mistake: “We apologize for the news of Pope Ratzinger’s death; a source that we considered credible informed us of this sad event (…). This news was based on nothing and we ask our readers to excuse us.” http://www.lastampa.it/2018/03/28/vaticaninsider/eng/the-vatican/the-fake-news-on-the-pope-emeritus-death-lzIpHiAKqMxMKejbfADt7H/pagina.html
For several weeks now, observes Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli – and especially since Benedict XVI himself wrote that he feels he is “on a pilgrimage towards Home”, certified journalists in the Vatican have been regularly asked by their agencies to gather information on Joseph Ratzinger’s health. The articles for the day he dies are already written.
This is not the first time a pope’s death has been falsely announced. In the 90’s, when John Paul II was on vacation at Castelgandolfo, an old Roman prelate heard that one of his cardinal friends had had to leave in a hurry for the pontifical residence. He concluded that the Holy Father was dying. Believing himself to be in possession of information of the utmost importance, the prelate asked all to pray for the deceased pope at the end of his morning Mass in St. Peter’s basilica. This was enough for the media to spread the news. The Vatican had to publish a denial. Shortly after, John Paul II encountered the prelate in question and with a smile, asked about his health.
Under Pius XII
The similar incident that occurred at the end of Pius XII’s pontificate is most revealing. On October 8, 1958, an Italian press agency published the fake news of Pope Pacelli’s death. He was in his last agony and did not die until the next day. But four important Italian newspapers published a special edition based on the fake news, and the incident was so unacceptable that the Holy See sent an official letter of protest to the Italian government.
A high-ranking Roman prelate was behind this fake news. He had met with several Vaticanists, with the intention of informing them exclusively of the pope’s death. He had agreed on a signal with them: when the curtain of a certain window of the palace of Castelgandolfo moved, they could be sure the sovereign pontiff had just passed away.
The strategy fell apart when a nun came to clean the apartment where the window was situated and opened the curtain, thus giving the signal. The Vaticanists who were eagerly awaiting it, in their frenzy for all things sensational, set in motion the mechanism that lead to a complete loss of their credibility.
If Christian journalism does exist, it should stand out for its care and respect for the truth, after the example of St. Francis de Sales, heavenly patron of writers and journalists.