Seventeen years in the see of Boniface – Heinz-Josef Algermissen retires

It couldn’t have come on a more fitting day for the Diocese of Fulda. On 5 June they celebrated the feast day of their patron St. Boniface, which was celebrated over the weekend with the annual Bonifatius Fest which drew some 8,000 visitors, among them the bishop of that other diocese closely linked to St Boniface: Msgr. Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden.

Algermissen2On the same 5th of June it was announced this had been the last such day presided over by Bishop Heinz Joshistef Algermissen. That was not unexpected, as the bishop reached the age of 75 in February, and there was no reason to assume that his retirement would not be accepted within the following months. Bishop Algermissen led the Diocese of Fulda since 2001. Before that he served as an auxiliary bishop of Paderborn for five years.

The Diocese of Fulda, which traces its origins to the establishment of a monastery by the aforementioned St. Boniface in 744. In 751 the monastery became an abacy nullius under the direct responsibility of the Holy See, making the abbots independent from the local bishops. The prosperity of the abbacy grew, in 1220 it became an abbey-principality, and in 1752 it became a diocese in its own right, taking the name of Fulda. Over the subsequent centuries its borders were changed repeatedly, gaining territory in 1821 and 1929, and losing it in 1930 and 1973. The last change was a reflection of Cold War reality: parts of Fulda had been under Communist rule since the end of World War II, and in 1973 those parts, as well as parts of the Diocese of Würzburg, became a separate apostolic administration: Erfurt-Meiningen. In 1994 this became the Diocese of Erfurt.

Karte_Bistum_FuldaToday, the Diocese of Fulda covers the northerns and eastern parts of the Land of Hesse, a small part of Thuringia and and exclave in Bavaria. Within its 10,318 square kilometres live some 400,000 Catholics a little of 20% of the entire population. It remains a pilgrimage site because of St. Boniface’s wish to be buried there, instead of in Mainz or Utrecht. He had been killed in the Frisian swamps near what is now Dokkum in the Netherlands (hence the connection to the the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, hinted at above). With the acceptance of the retirement of Bishop Algermissen, and until the catedral chapter has chosen a diocesan administrator, Bishop Karlheinz Diez leads the diocese. He is Fulda’s sole auxiliary, making him the automatic choice for the role.

During his years in office, Bishop Algermissen had a clear eye on the future, creating 43 parish communities in ten deaneries by 2006, and in 2017 he created the strategy for the next decades until 2030. “When many today see an ever denser curtain blocking heaven from view and when the emancipation from God becomes a program, we are urgently called to establish a countermovement,” the bishop declared.

Commenting in Bishop Algermissen’s retirement, Cardinal Reinhard Marx expressed his gratitude for his service and hospitality (the German bishops meet in Fulda for their autumn plenary meetings), but also referred to his pro-life stance: “Regarding your work, I emphasise the special attention to unborn and dying life: protecting life from beginning to end has, also in public debates, always been a heartfelt concern for you.”

Bishop Algermissen was  a member of the Liturgy Commission and the Ecumenism Commission in the German Bishops’ Conference. He was vice-president of the latter commission.

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At last weekend’s Bonifatiusfest, a toast from Groningen-Leeuwarden canon Fr. Paul Verheijen to Bishop Algermissen (Credit: R. Leupolt)

The election of the new bishop follows the usual rules laid down in the Concordat between Prussia and the Holy See of 1929: the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, requests suggestions for the new bishop from the dioceses covering the former territory of Prussia and sends these to the pope. The pope, or rather the Congregation for Bishops, and following the collection of further information on the candidates by the nuncio, selects his three favoured candidates, and this list is then sent to the cathedral chapter, who elect their new bishop from that list. After approval from the governments of, in this case, Hesse and Thuringia, the cathedral chapter sends the name of the elected to the pope, who then appoints him. Following the publication of the name of the new bishop, a date for consecration (if the new appointee is not a bishop yet) and installation. The consecration of the new bishop falls to the metropolitan of the Church province of which Fulda is a part: Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker of Paderborn. Before this, however, the new bishop makes an oath of loyalty to the German state and the Länder of Hesse and Thuringia.

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^On the day that Bishop Algermissen retired, the newly-appointed bishop of Würzburg, Msgr. Franz Jung, made his oath of loyalty to the prime minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder. Bishop-elect Jung will be consecrated and installed on 10 June. (Credit: Markus Hauck (POW))

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Just another church? Utrecht to close its cathedral

An archdiocese closing its cathedral. An unheard of development, surely? Not so in Utrecht, and it really is a logical conclusion in a diocese which is merging parishes and selling excess property: when it may be expected from a rural parish somewhere along the German border, why not from the inner-city parish where the archbishop happens to live?

catharinakathedraal utrechtIt must be added that no decision to actually secularise and sell the cathedral of St. Catherine has yet been made. But the parish council has seemingly announced its plan to ask the archdiocese to allow the secularisation and sale of the ancient church, in order to solve the financial dire straits the parish, which encompasses all of the inner city of Utrecht, finds itself in. The final decision lies with the archbishop, Cardinal Willem Eijk, who usually agrees with such requests if the parish’s reasoning is sound. In this context, before anyone accuses the cardinal of willfully closing churches, even his own cathedral, it must be recalled that the archdiocese does not own her churches: the parish usually does, and they must finance the upkeep of sometimes ancient and monumental buildings in a time of decreasing church attendance and financial support from faithful.

Surely, the loss of its cathedral is a monumental event for a diocese, and it does not happen frequently or easily. In the case of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, it will have to find a new cathedral for the first time since 1853: St. Catherine’s was the only choice to become the cathedral of the newly-established archdiocese as it was the only Protestant church in Utrecht given over to the Catholics in 1842. The Protestants had used the current cathedral since 1636, and before that it had a secular use. It had in fact only been Catholic for only the first 20 years since its completion in 1560.

In other dioceses, the bishop’s seat has also been relocated to different churches in the past. A chronological overview:

  • 1559: The church of St. John the Evangelist becomes the cathedral of the newly established Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In Roermond, the church of the Holy Spirit is the new cathedral.
  • 1661: St, Christopher’s in Roermond becomes a cathedral for the first time.
  • 1801: Roermond is suppressed as a diocese, so St. Christopher’s ceases to be a cathedral.
  • 1853: In Haarlem, the church of St. Joseph becomes the cathedral of the newly-established diocese of Haarlem. In Breda, The church of St. Anthony of Padua becomes the new cathedral, and in Roermond, the bishop’s seat is again established in St. Christopher’s.
  • 1876: Breda’s cathedral of St. Anthony becomes a parish church again and the bishop’s seat moves to St. Barbara’s.
  • 1898: The cathedral of St. Bavo in Haarlem, still under construction, becomes the cathedral of the Diocese of Haarlem, the only current Dutch cathedral built as a cathedral.
  • 1956: The church of St. Martin in Groningen becomes the cathedral of the eponymous diocese. At the same time, in Rotterdam, the church of St. Ignace becomes that diocese’s cathedral and is renamed as Ss. Lawrence & Ignace.
  • 1967: Rotterdam’s church of St. Elisabeth becomes the cathedral of Ss. Lawrence and Elisabeth.
  • 1968: St. Michael’s becomes the new cathedral of Breda.
  • 1970: The cathedral of St. Martin of the Diocese of Groningen is secularised, and later demolished.
  • 1981: The church of St. Joseph in Groningen becomes the new cathedral of the diocese of the same name.
  • 2001: The seat of the bishop of Breda returns to St. Anthony of Padua, which resumes the title of cathedral after having lost it in 1876.

In the past centuries, there have been some changes in cathedrals in the Netherlands, with the Diocese of Breda taking the cake in number of switches: it has had three cathedrals – one of which twice – since 1853. Only in the southern dioceses of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Roermond there has been significant stability. The only direct comparison to the developing situation regarding the cathedral of Utrecht is what transpired in Groningen in the 1970’s: the cathedral of St. Martin was closed in 1970, but remained the official cathedral until 1981, when it was demolished after having been deemed unsuitably to be rebuilt into the new university library. For 11 years, the Diocese of Groningen had a cathedral it no longer used, before another church took over the mantle. If Utrecht’s cathedral is closed and eventually secularised and sold, it is to be hoped that a new cathedral is found rather quicker. The most likely candidate is the church of St. Augustine, also located in the inner city of Utrecht, and the only other church in use by the city parish.

In the meantime, the announcement, which has not yet appeared officially in online media, has been met with sadness and disappointment, and the accusation that finances are the only reason for closing the cathedral, while its historical and religious importance for Catholics in Utrecht and beyond, as well as for all inhabitants of the city where St. Willibrord first established his see in the late 7th century, is being ignored.

EDIT: Shortly after my posting this, the cooperating parishes of Utrecht published a statement on their website. In it, they state an annual deficit of more than 400.000 euros, with building maintenance costs as one of the major posts, as the main reason to want to close St. Catherine’s cathedral. The parish of San Salvator, which owns and uses both the cathedral and the church of St. Augustine, is not able to keep both churches open. The cathedral is substantially more expensive than St. Augustine’s, so the parish will, in due course, request that the archbishop relegate it to profane use, per CIC §1222. The parish has extended feelers to the Catharijneconvent museum, which owns the former convent buildings adjacent to the cathedral, as a possible future owner. Moving the function of cathedral to St. Augustine’s is a process which will involve the Holy See. The entire process is still in a preliminary phase and may take several more years to complete.

A bit of history as a second titular see appears in the Netherlands

At about the same time that the titular diocese of Maastricht was occupied again, another titular see in the Netherlands was established, it turns out. The list of changes to the Annuario Pontificio 2017, which collects the statistical information of the Church, published on 28 February, includes 10 newly established titular dioceses (one of which is occupied, by the newly appointed apostolic nuncio to Korea and Mongolia, Msgr. Alfed Xuereb). Among these ten is the titular diocese of Middelburg.

Today Middelburg is the capital of the province of Zeeland, in the southwest of the Netherlands, and is part of the territory of the Diocese of Breda. From 1559 to 1603, however, it was one of the new dioceses established in part as a response to the rise of Protestantism.

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^A map of what is now the Netherlands shows the new dioceses established in 1559. Middelburg is located to the southwest of its metropolitan, the Archdiocese of Utrecht.

In the 44 years of its existence, Middelburg had three bishops. The first was Nicolaas van der Borcht from 1561 until his death in 1573. He was succeeded by Jan van Strijen from 1581 until his death in 1594. The last bishop of Middelburg was Karel-Filips de Rodoan from 1600 to 1603. He was transferred to Bruges when Middelburg was suppressed. The last two of these were never able to reside in their diocese because of the ongoing war between the Dutch Protestants and Spanish Catholics. The Diocese of Middelburg, naturally, chose the Spanish side. When Bishop van der Borcht died of dysentery in 1573, Middelburg was one year into a siege and it fell in 1574. The Catholic clergy fled to Antwerp. Although Bishop van Strijen was appointed to Middelburg, he never visited his diocese and died in Louvain. Bishop de Rodoan’s appointment was a theoretical one, and although he was duly consecrated a bishop, but the archduke of the southern Netherlands quickly went to find another see for him, and this was found in Bruges.

Middelburg was officially suppressed in 1603, only to reappear in January of this year as a titular diocese. In theory, it can be granted to a non-resident bishop (an auxiliary bishop or a bishop working in the curia in Rome or in the diplomatic service of the Holy See), but there is no reason to expect this to happen anytime soon.  There are more than 1,900 titular dioceses (and that’s not counting the titular archdioceses), of which some 800 are currently vacant. Makes you wonder why the Holy See saw the need to create 10 more in the first place…

Image credit: A cropped version of the original made by Hans Erren for Wikipedia, found here.

A rapid appointment – Franz Jung comes to Würzburg

dr.-franz-jung---pressestelle-bistum-speyerMsgr. Franz Jung has been appointed as Bishop of Würzburg after a relatively short vacancy of only five months. The vicar general of Speyer succeeds Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann, who retired in September, as the 89th bishop of the northern Bavarian diocese.

The announcement of the new bishop was made in Würzburg St. Kilian’s cathedral by the diocesan administrator, auxiliary bishop Ulrich Boom. Bishop-elect Jung’s election came surprisingly soon considering that it is subject to the Bavarian Concordat, which means that the cathedral chapters of all Bavarian dioceses, as well as that of Speyer, must create a terna of three candidates to be sent to Rome. The Pope then selects the new bishop, and then the government of the federal state(s) in which the diocese lies must also be asked if there are no objections to the chosen bishop. Only then can the new bishop be officially announced.

Bishop-elect Jung comes from a family of teachers and has three sisters. He attended seminary in Munich and Rome, where he studied philosophy and Catholic theology. In 1992 he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Franz Kamphaus, of Limburg, in Rome. After several years working in parishes in Pirmasens near the French border and in Speyer, he also worked as the personal secretary of Bishop Anton Schlembach (bishop of Seyer from 1983 to 2007). He is a scholar of the early Church Fathers and early Church history. He has been a member of the cathedral chapter of Speyer since 2008 and vicar general since 2009.

The announcement of the new bishop was made in the presence of some 800 people, even though the news had only broken earlier that morning. Following the announcement, Bishop emeritus Hofmann declared that he believed Msgr. Jung to be the right man in the right place. “I am happy that the appointment came so soon,” he said, adding jokingly, “We are faster than Hildesheim. That also speaks for the Diocese of Würzburg.” Hildesheim, now the only remaining vacant diocese in Germany*, has also seen its previous bishop, Norbert Trelle, retire in September of last year.

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In his native Speyer, Msgr. Jung is seen as a hands-on prelate. He has been responsible for the diocesan reform process which saw the merger of parishes and an overhaul of the pastoral care provided by the diocese. He has also overseen major events such as the 950th anniversary of the consecration of the imperial cathedral, the beatification of Paul Josef Nardini and the funeral of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But the new bishop of Würzburg is also deeply spiritual notes Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer, whose vicar general Franz Jung has been for almost 9 years: “In his person, he combines outstanding talents for theology, pastoral care and church administration. These allow him to build bridges between people working in different parts of the Church.”

Bishop Ulrich Boom, who led the diocese as diocesan administrator in the five months between bishops, is equally pleased. He said, “The new bishop is a very level-headed person who can make decisions and can also be cheerful. As he is still very young, we have a bishop who will stay with us for more than 20 years. He will bring his theological expertise, his pastoral and administrative experience. In the diocese, both administration and proclamation must be in order.”

*Albeit not for long. Bishop Heinz-Josef Algermissen of Fulda reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 on 15 February, so his resignation will probably be accepted soon.

Photo credit: [1] Pressestelle Bistum Speyer, [2] Klaus Landry

 

An archbishop for Maastricht

While the actual diocese it is a part of remains vacant, the southern Dutch city of Maastricht had an archbishop appointed yesterday. Maastricht was among the first cities in what would later become the Netherlands to have a resident bishop, when it was established as a diocese in 530 (before that it had been a part of the Diocese of Tongres and Maastricht since the early 4th century). For almost two centuries it was the heart of the Catholic Church in the Limburg area, until it was suppressed in 720, its territory then falling under Liège. In 1971, Maastricht was re-established, but as a titular see, a diocese in name only, held by a bishop who was elsewhere active as an auxiliary bishop somewhere, in the Holy See diplomatic service or in the Roman Curia.

Ks_Sommertag_WSDNow, for the first time, the new titular bishop is an archbishop. He is the newly-appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Msgr. Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. He is appointed after a six-year vacancy of the titular see. His predecessors were Marcos Pérez Caicedo (2006-2010), now the archbishop of Cuenca in Ecuador; Bishop Joannes Gijsen (1993-1996), who was the titular bishop of Maastricht after retiring from Roermond and before being appointed to Reykjavik; and Bishop Petrus Moors (1970-1980), who became the titular bishop upon retiring as bishop of Roermond (a practice since abolished: retiring bishops of a diocese are no longer appointed to a titular see, simply being styled the bishop emeritus of their erstwhile diocese).

Archbishop-elect Sommertag is 50 years old and was born in Wiecbork, Poland. A priest of the Diocese of Pelplin, he has been in the diplomatic service of the Holy See since 2000, having served in Tanzania, Nicaragua, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Palestine and Cyprus as well as in the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State. As Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua he will naturally work in that middle-American country, and he is bishop of Maastricht in name only, without any rights or duties in our country.

The Diocese of Maastricht is usually traced back to St. Servatius, whose remains are still buried in the city. The first historical source referring to the diocese dates from 535. It is unknown how far the influence of the bishops of Maastricht reached, but the diocesan borders may have somewhat coincided with those of the later Diocese of Liège, which means that it stretched from the Luxembourg Ardennes to northwestern Brabant, amking it equal to the later Diocese of Utrecht in the northern Netherlands. The cathedral of the diocese was one of the two ancient churches that still stand in Maastricht: the basilica of St. Servatius and the basilica of Our Lady.

Photo credit: Krzysztof Mania/KFP

On Schiermonnikoog, the Cistercians have come home – for real, this time

Wonderful news from the Cistercian monks on Schiermonnikoog:

“We have found a home. Looking for a location to establish a monastery on Schiermonnikoog we came across the Rijsbergen inn, a centuries-old building on the edge of the village. We were shown around and were impressed. Of all the locations on the island the inn gradually presented itself as the place for us.

And so our years-long search for a monastery culminated in Rijsbergen inn, a wonderful opportunity with which we are very happy.

The inn will remain as such until 15 January 2019, after which we hope to move in quickly. Its name will simply by ‘Schiermonnikoog monastery’. After the building has been furnished, also with its own chapel, we hope to open our doors for candidate monks, guests seeking solitude in the guest house and visitors of our services.

We are very grateful for the success of our search, and we wish to thank everyone who has supported us in any way.

Brothers Alberic, Jelke, Paulus, Vincentius and Jos.”

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^Four of the monks in front of their future monastery

The Cistercian monks have been on the island for more than two years. Five of them have been living in a house not far from the site of their future monastery. Their original plan to build a new monastery in the dunes outside the village was abandoned after they found that it led to a debate among the villagers. They decided to completely rethink their future, with the caveat that they did not wish to leave Schiermonnikoog.

This morning they signed the contract for the sale of Rijsbergen, now a hotel with 17 rooms. It advertises itself as a homely and honest hotel, humbly admitting that their double rooms are not very big and that no room comes with a television – a conscious decision.

Rijsbergen was built in 1757 as the home of the Stachouwer family, who owned the island of Schiermonnikoog. In 1858 the family sold it to lawyer John Erick Banck from The Hague, who owned the island until 1892 (he initiated land reclamation works with room for seven new farms and establised the sailors’ school). The island and house then fell into the possession of the German noble family Von Bernstorff (one of the major hotels on the island still bears their name). Following the Second World War, Rijsbergen came into the possession of the Dutch state. The building was then used as a school and inn, and its upkeep was rather neglected. Remaining of the original building are the front and the main house’s rooftop. The building has been owned by its current owners since 1992.

Photo credit: Anne Christine Girardot

 

In Message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis emphasises the importance of independence, objectivity and truthfulness in media

Yesterday’s message for the World Communications Day, in which Pope Francis focuses on the topic of fake news. A topical buzzword, understood here as ‘news’ that deceives and is not in service to the truth.

“The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Communication is part of God’s plan for us and an essential way to experience fellowship. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator, we are able to express and share all that is true, good, and beautiful. We are able to describe our own experiences and the world around us, and thus to create historical memory and the understanding of events. But when we yield to our own pride and selfishness, we can also distort the way we use our ability to communicate. This can be seen from the earliest times, in the biblical stories of Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen 4:4-16; 11:1-9). The capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities. On the other hand, when we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness.

In today’s fast-changing world of communications and digital systems, we are witnessing the spread of what has come to be known as “fake news”. This calls for reflection, which is why I have decided to return in this World Communications Day Message to the issue of truth, which was raised time and time again by my predecessors, beginning with Pope Paul VI, whose 1972 Message took as its theme: “Social Communications at the Service of Truth”. In this way, I would like to contribute to our shared commitment to stemming the spread of fake news and to rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.

1. What is “fake” about fake news?

The term “fake news” has been the object of great discussion and debate. In general, it refers to the spreading of disinformationon line or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.

The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. Secondly, this false but believable news is “captious”, inasmuch as it grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration. The ability to spread such fake news often relies on a manipulative use of the social networks and the way they function. Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage.

The difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news is due also to the fact that many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions. Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas. The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. 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.

2. How can we recognize fake news?

None of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods. This is no easy task, since disinformation is often based on deliberately evasive and subtly misleading rhetoric and at times the use of sophisticated psychological mechanisms. Praiseworthy efforts are being made to create educational programmes aimed at helping people to interpret and assess information provided by the media, and teaching them to take an active part in unmasking falsehoods, rather than unwittingly contributing to the spread of disinformation. Praiseworthy too are those institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing the phenomenon, to say nothing of the work being done by tech and media companies in coming up with new criteria for verifying the personal identities concealed behind millions of digital profiles.

Yet preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the “snake-tactics” used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place. This was the strategy employed by the “crafty serpent” in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news (cf. Gen 3:1-15), which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (cf. Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation. The strategy of this skilled “Father of Lies” (Jn 8:44) is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.

In the account of the first sin, the tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true: “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Gen 3:1). In fact, God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat” (Gen 2:17). The woman corrects the serpent, but lets herself be taken in by his provocation: “Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it nor touch it, under pain of death” (Gen 3:2). Her answer is couched in legalistic and negative terms; after listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of the facts, the woman is misled. So she heeds his words of reassurance: “You will not die!” (Gen 3:4).

The tempter’s “deconstruction” then takes on an appearance of truth: “God knows that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). God’s paternal command, meant for their good, is discredited by the seductive enticement of the enemy: “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and desirable” (Gen 3:6). This biblical episode brings to light an essential element for our reflection: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.

What is at stake is our greed. Fake news often goes viral, spreading so fast that it is hard to stop, not because of the sense of sharing that inspires the social media, but because it appeals to the insatiable greed so easily aroused in human beings. The economic and manipulative aims that feed disinformation are rooted in a thirst for power, a desire to possess and enjoy, which ultimately makes us victims of something much more tragic: the deceptive power of evil that moves from one lie to another in order to rob us of our interior freedom. That is why education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.

3. “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32)

Constant contamination by deceptive language can end up darkening our interior life. Dostoevsky’s observation is illuminating: “People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect, they cease to love, and in order to occupy and distract themselves without love they give way to passions and to coarse pleasures, and sink to bestiality in their vices, all from continual lying to others and to themselves.” (The Brothers Karamazov, II, 2).

So how do we defend ourselves? The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth. In Christianity, truth is not just a conceptual reality that regards how we judge things, defining them as true or false. The truth is not just bringing to light things that are concealed, “revealing reality”, as the ancient Greek term aletheia (from a-lethès, “not hidden”) might lead us to believe. Truth involves our whole life. In the Bible, it carries with it the sense of support, solidity, and trust, as implied by the root ‘aman, the source of our liturgical expression Amen. Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6). We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us. This alone can liberate us: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

Freedom from falsehood and the search for relationship: these two ingredients cannot be lacking if our words and gestures are to be true, authentic, and trustworthy. To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose. Truth, therefore, is not really grasped when it is imposed from without as something impersonal, but only when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another. Nor can we ever stop seeking the truth, because falsehood can always creep in, even when we state things that are true. An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful. We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.

4. Peace is the true news

The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language. If responsibility is the answer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news. In today’s world, theirs is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission. Amid feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons. Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives. That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace.

I would like, then, to invite everyone to promote a journalism of peace. By that, I do not mean the saccharine kind of journalism that refuses to acknowledge the existence of serious problems or smacks of sentimentalism. On the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice. A journalism less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes. A journalism committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.

To this end, drawing inspiration from a Franciscan prayer, we might turn to the Truth in person:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Amen.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2018, the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.

FRANCIS