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Did Pope Francis Criminalize the Reporting of Sex Crimes?

Filed under Scandal

Pope Francis

Yesterday morning, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page posted the following bombshell:

"According to the new laws, revealing or receiving confidential Vatican information is now punishable by up to two years in prison, while newly defined sex crimes against children carry a sentence of up to twelve years. Because all sex crimes are kept confidential, there is no longer a legal way for Vatican officials to report sex crimes."

This was startling stuff, and of course it wasn't long before Dawkins' devoteees began to chime in. One fan compared the Vatican to Islamic Sharia law:

"Catholic law, as with Sharia law, should NEVER be above the law of the land! If Vatican officials want to report the crimes of priests, surley [sic] if they leave the Vatican, they are no longer bound by their medieval laws, and can report with complete immunity to those barbaric laws?"

Another atheist commenter sees this is as just one more reason why Catholics should be leaving the Church:

This is why people should be flocking away from Catholicism, but nooooo. Who cares if your children are safe, as long as you have a spot in Heaven! Stuff like this is why even if I could bring myself to believe in a sky wizard, I would refuse to worship a God so messed up!

As of this morning, this post had 4,584 "likes" and was shared more than 7,804 times on Facebook. Atheists definitely know how to get the word out.

The only problem is that this article came from a parody web site (similar to the Onion) called Newslo. The site describes itself this way:

"Newslo is the first hybrid News/Satire platform on the web. Readers come to us for a unique brand of entertainment and information that is enhanced by features like our fact-button, which allows readers to find the line between fact and commentary."

Unlike the Richard Dawkins Foundation Facebook page, Newslo has a button you can select that highlights the bits in an article that are fact-based. At the time of this writing there is no indication that the Dawkins Foundation was aware that this bit of Vatican "news" is not.
Originally posted at Catholic Answers. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Charisma News)

Jon Sorensen

Written by

Jon Sorensen is the Director of Marketing for Catholic Answers, the largest lay-run apostolate of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the United States. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 3D Animation and Visual Communications in 2004 from Platt College, Ontario. Before coming to Catholic Answers, he worked in the automotive industry producing television commercials and corporate video. He has also produced motion graphics for several feature-length films. Follow Jon through his website, JonSorenson.net.

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  • SynMonger

    The article links to a boston globe story... so what's all this about newslo?

    • See the above linked text that reads "this article". Here is the Newslo link:


      • The Ubiquitous

        Looking more closely, it looks like Newslo identifies these bits as the "fact-based" parts of the article.

        • enness

          My thoughts (through someone else's brain) on "fact-based":


        • It is a fact that Pope Francis increased the penalties for both leaking confidential information and child abuse. It is not a fact that he information about child abuse is confidential and may not be reported.

          I found some reasonably funny satire on the Newslo site, but I thought the article about the pope was one of the weakest pieces. Newslo is not in the same class as The Onion.

          • 42Oolon

            Fair enough, but there is no way out for the Dawkins facebook page. Their post clearly states that the Pope just made it illegal to report sex abuse, it then links to a Boston Globe article that does not say this. The facebook page post is actually an unattributed verbatim quote from Newslo which is plagerism in a way. This is astonishing as we can expect whoever runs the facebook page will be well aware that there are millions of theists looking for mistakes like this. The poster was clearly taking from Newslo, which they made no effort to investigate.

            It is pathetic and I think Catholics are duly outraged.

            That said, the laws themselves seem to be directed at protecting the Vatican from more embarrassing leaks.

  • There's not much to discuss about this. It looks like Facebook commenters repeatedly pointed out the story was from a fake news site very early on, and yet Dawkins (or whoever manages the Facebook page for him) didn't post an acknowledgment that they had been duped. It looks like the link has been updated to a factual story about the actual changes the pope made back in July, but of course the true story does not support the allegation in the original post. It is one thing to make a stupid mistake. It is another thing not to own up to it and rectify it.

    • enness

      Commenters via Facebook on the Newslo article are arguing as if it is real. Doesn't anybody do their homework anymore? But I think some people are prepared to believe anything about certain subjects.

  • 42Oolon

    Shame on Dawkins facebook page. Totally fair criticism. I recall literally throwing Dawkins' the God Delusion across the room when I found one of his citations was Wikipedia. This seems to be more lazy or lack of fact checking. Sad. I think we are entitled to a retraction and apology.

    • Jon Hawkins

      Given time, I expect they will apologize; one can only hope.

    • Peter Piper

      It is particularly egregious given the last paragraph of the article, which is blatant parody:

      As the Holy See moves to clarify the law, [Monsignor] Mamberti has warned would-be offenders within Vatican walls that they “are still subject to the most watchful eye of all: the eye of God. His judgment is greater than—oh, who am I kidding? For now, there is nothing we can do.”

    • Charles_BCCA

      You are so full of it. You should throw up those who would abuse children and those who would cover-up their crimes. Catholic Church is simply a cult that is as dangerous as Islam.

  • Octavo

    I wish Dawkins' posts, sayings, tweets, and books were not so widely known. He really needs to fade into obscurity. He's got to be the most overrated atheist author I know of.

  • Jon Sorensen

    Looks like the Dawkins Foundation took the original post down.

  • stanz2reason

    Bad job by the Dawkins foundation. They should be more careful, though it seems a site like that newslo is begging to be a contributer the general mis-information that's pervasive of the internet through half-truths mixed in with satire that's not as clear (or funny for that matter) as the Onion.

    It's funny that the OP quotes part of the article ("revealing or receiving confidential Vatican information is now punishable by up to two years in prison, while newly defined sex crimes against children carry a sentence of up to twelve years...") that was actually "fact based" if I'm understanding the way that Newslo site works.

    In addition it appears that the portion of the article that states "Fortunately, only clergy and lay people who live and work in Vatican City are subject to the new legislation, which differs from the canon law governing the universal Catholic Church..." really does go to the heart of what the Dawkins foundation was complaining about, though the portions regarding reports of child abuse being stopped were 'satire'.

    • Jon Sorensen

      The Dawkins Foundation, like the Newslo article, are guilty of conflating two laws that have nothing to do with each other. The Dawkins Facebook page must have realized this because they eventually removed the post from their page.

      • stanz2reason

        Actually the Dawkins Foundation (or more specifically the staff member responsible for running their facebook page) was guilty of re-posting and commenting on information without verifying the specifics of the source and the Newslo site is guilty of trying to be the Onion (failing miserably... one might say epically so) and deliberately fostering an environment of proliferating misinformation (great success). Other than that I'm not sure exactly what you're responding to.

        • Jon Sorensen

          I give a crap. It doesn't matter who posted it on their Facebook page. It's misinformation about the pope and Church law and thousands of people were sharing it as though it were true.

          • stanz2reason

            Seems like a careless but honest mistake that was rectified fairly quickly. Pick your battles dude. And let it go. Somethings just aren't worth getting your panties in a bunch about.

          • stanz2reason

            Brandon.... I'm curious as to why my last comment was deleted. I don't recall anything that warranted this. Ill trust it was in error. Please restore it.

          • Though I'm sure you meant it in jest, the last sentence could be misinterpreted as an insult (i.e. comparing Jon to a tightly-wound female.) I decided to remove it.

          • stanz2reason

            That is absurd. The only people taking offense here should be women... at your insinuation that being compared to one is somehow insulting. On top of that, 'Don't get your panties in a bunch' isn't a literal comparison to a female (which again for the record is not an insult), but a phrase used to note someone over-reacting to a situation.

            I've had quite enough of your nonsense. You've shown no interest in having a meaningful dialogue about anything beyond the rules and regulations of your site, which you have no problem braking yourself when you see fit. Your continued petulance have made my good faith efforts to engage in conversation here ultimately a waste of my time.

            Unless my previous comment is restored in full, consider this my last post.

        • Jon Sorensen

          stanz2reason, I appreciate the advice. The Catholic Church is constantly beaten on over the sex abuse scandals. When it's true, the criticism is merited. When it's not, it's worth speaking out about. I posted a screen grab of the Dawkins page with the bad information to my own site. It went up on Saturday (at least that is when I became aware of it). It wasn't taken down until two days and 10,000 shares later. In your opinion, the error was rectified by just taking it down. In my opinion, it would have been rectified if the Dawkins foundation had posted something on their page letting people know the story was bogus (wishful thinking, I know). In my opinion, countering this kind of misinformation is a battle I saw fit to pick. You don't care and that's your prerogative sir, but just because you don't think it's important doesn't mean it's not worth fighting.

  • JByrne24

    Wasn't this item also removed yesterday from the Dawkins website, when it's unreliability was discovered?

  • Andrew Ward
  • Charles_BCCA

    Rubbish. More lies and distortions from those making excuses for the Pope who is hell bent on covering up sexual abuse of children by Priests and also sexual abuse of nuns. 40& of nuns report being raped or molested by priests and or bishops. http://rekindlingthereformation.com/AD-News-01.03.21-vatican-confirms-report-of-sexual-abuse-and-rape-of-nuns-by-priests-in-23-countries.html

  • Beatrix Muircastle

    so we were duped?