#minorsextrafficking | Fact check: Article falsely reports arrest of Pope Francis


An article circulating on social media allegedly reports that Pope Francis was “arrested” on Jan. 9. This report is false.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The article, visible here    (archived version  archive.vn/ivJVo   ), was published on Jan. 10 by a site describing itself as a Canadian conservative news site ( here ), called The Conservative Beaver. 

Some users commenting on the article appear to be referring to the conspiracy theory QAnon, which often allude to “a secret campaign” being waged by U.S. President Donald Trump against a sex trafficking ring that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and “deep state” allies ( here ). Comments include the QAnon slogan “WWG1WGA”, short for Where We Go One, We Go All ( here ). 

Reuters found no reports from trustworthy news organizations to support this claim. The Permanent Observer of the Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, Reverend Father Roger Landry, confirmed to Reuters via email that “there’s no truth whatsoever to the claims” of Pope Francis’ arrest.

Reuters previously debunked a similar false claim published by the Conservative Beaver about President Barack Obama here .

FAKE ARTICLE

The first paragraph of the purported report says, “Pope Francis aka Jorge Mario Bergoglio was arrested Saturday in connection with an 80-count indictment of charges including possession of child pornography, human trafficking, incest, possession of drug paraphernalia and felony fraud”.

It includes an alleged statement by Giuseppe Governale, Italy’s top anti-mafia prosecutor, that reads: “These individuals are truly the worst of the worst in society. I can promise you, we will not stop targeting human trafficking until we put a stop to this despicable trade in the Vatican and Italy, as well as surrounding countries around Europe. While I am a lead prosecutor in Italy, my department will strive to protect our citizens, especially those that need us most, our children”.

A Google search shows that both the mentioned “charges” and the “statement” are virtually the same – with minor details changed to match the new circumstances – as the ones visible here in a Jan. 7, 2021 local report about the arrest of a man identified as Grady Paul Gaston III in Limestone County, Alabama.

Instead of referring to an “80-count indictment” as the Conservative Beaver article does, the report by WHNT cites a “75-count” indictment. The fake article’s “charges” additionally include “felony fraud”.

The statement falsely attributed to Governale was actually given made by Limestone County Sheriff Kevin Turner. The Conservative Beaver article replaced the words Vatican and Italy with “Madison County” and the reference to “counties around our state” with “countries around Europe”. The word “Sheriff” was replaced by “lead prosecutor in Italy”.

The Limestone County arrest was also reported by other local outlets here , here . 

PUBLIC APPEARENCES

On Jan. 10, a day after the purported “arrest”, Pope Francis led the Angelus prayer ( here ) from the Library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. He has also been active on Twitter  twitter.com/Pontifex .

On Jan. 11, he announced a change to Roman Catholic Church law to allow women to serve as readers at liturgies, altar servers and distributors of communion ( here ).

Pope Francis’s schedule for Jan. 11 is also visible on the Holy See press office’s website  here .

“BLACKOUT”

The Conservative Beaver article claims that to “make the arrest” security officials “had to cut off the power in the Vatican, as well as dim the live cam”. This is also false: there are no trustworthy reports on this alleged blackout and the “evidence” presented in social media posts with this claim has been disproved.

As “evidence”, the article includes tweets (for example: here ) that feature screengrabs from what appears to be a live transmission here of Saint Peter’s Square by Vatican Media (see blue logo on left bottom corner).

On Jan. 10, Mountain Butorac, founder of the blog Catholic Traveler ( here ) based in Rome, visited Saint Peter’s Square to disprove the claim.

Around timestamp 3:14  youtu.be/FFEThJF7HF0?t=194 , Butorac shows that while the live cam feed from the Vatican ( here ) appeared to show a darker nighttime image at that moment, behind him the same area is visibly more lit up, pointing to this being more likely a video lighting issue.

On Twitter here , Butorac also dismissed the allegation that there were “gunshots”, as some users claimed.

VERDICT

False. Pope Francis has not been arrested. The false article, published by a website that has spread disinformation in the past, features charges copied from a county sheriff’s statement on an related arrest in Alabama.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .





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