Spam and phishing are undoubtedly irksome, but among the noisome phenomena introduced by the internet, none annoys me quite so much as “fact-checking”—the practice in which self-appointed watchdogs claim to have refuted a statement, when in fact they have merely offered another opinion. Sad to say, “fact-checking” has invaded the Catholic corner of cyberspace.
In a new initiative, Catholic-factchecking.com, an international coalition of Catholic media outlets and secular agencies has formed to check facts. But not just any facts. Catholic-factchecking (CFC) has a very specific purpose. The group announces:
In order to help to clarify fake news and misleading information about vaccines against COVID-19, an international consortium of Catholic media, news agencies and world-renowned scientists is being founded.
The CFC coalition was founded by Aleteia, “a worldwide Catholic information network in seven languages,” and I.Media, “a news agency that specializes in information from the Vatican.” Both are respected media outlets, with a history of solid reporting. They are joined by several other prominent Catholic media partners from around the world; American readers will readily recognize the name of Our Sunday Visitor among them.
Now you might ask: With so much misinformation about the Catholic faith in circulation, why would a Catholic fact-checking venture focus exclusively on Covid vaccines? Part of the answer to that question no doubt lies in genuine conviction that the Covid epidemic trumps all other concerns, and vaccination is the only effective response. The editorial board of Our Sunday Visitor is on record as saying: “Today’s truth is simple: The COVID-19 vaccine is a gift.”
But another reason for the exclusive focus on vaccination is, beyond question, the source of funding for this initiative. CFC has joined in an international campaign driven by such formidable secular powers as Google, the Gates Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation of George Soros.
A one-sided presentation
In introducing its services, CFC promises: “The members of the platform do not offer polarized information for or against the different vaccines.” That is simply not true. The site offers a steady diet of support for vaccines, with never a nod to the public-health experts who question the effectiveness and/or the safety of the vaccination campaign. CFC “experts” patiently explain why there is no plausible moral objection to the Covid vaccines; the site provides no room for the moral theologians who disagree.
Typical of the CFC approach is a piece by Father Alberto Carrara, announcing: “All pediatric scientific communities are in favor of vaccination against Covid in the age group 5-11 years.” There are certainly supporters of vaccination for young people. But to suggest that all scientific experts favor that step—when young people face minimal danger from the disease—is blatantly irresponsible.
Another article on the site takes issue with the claim that naturally-induced immunity is “a billion times more effective” than vaccination. “This is FALSE,” the post warns us. Well, yes; “a billion times more effective” is obviously a rhetorical gesture rather than a scientific claim. But honest scientists recognize today that natural immunity (acquired by those who have had the disease) is more effective than the vaccines—as the tens of thousands of “breakthrough cases” among vaccinated people demonstrate.
Although CFC piously warns against “polarized information,” that is what the site conveys. LifeSite News—which is, no doubt, one of the “polarized” sources which CFC hopes to thwart—is more accurate in its critique of the new platform: “The consortium defends the use of abortion-tainted COVID jabs, attacks natural immunity, and criticizes the concept of seeking a religious exemption to jab mandates.”
Both Aleteia and I.Media, the two Catholic outlets involved in founding CFC, are the offspring of an enormous French Catholic publishing conglomerate, Media-Participations, which boasts over $600 million in annual revenues. But Media-Participations was not the only source of start-up funding for the venture. CFC was one of several projects sponsored by Google, through its $3-million “Covid-19 Vaccine Counter-Misinformation Open Fund.”
Aleteia had already secured a promotional partnership with Google, dating back to 2013. Now the CFC consortium, as part of Google’s project, joined in another partnership with the Institute for Global Health in Barcelona, a group that has drawn over $50 million in grants from the Gates Foundation, as well as six-figure donations from the Open Society Foundation.
Oddly enough, despite its impressive backing, the CFC has generated sparse content and attracted little notice. The site features articles from Verifact (a “fact-checking group), from I.Media, and from “other sources.” Most of the material currently displayed on the CFC site is already outdated, having been posted last September. Google announced the CFC project in March 2021; the initiative only came to the attention of other Catholic media outlets in January 2022.
Quite possibly the CFC has not made headway because there is no room on the market for another “fact-checking” service. Anyone who logs onto a search engine will immediately discover the same sort of propaganda that CFC provides. When every major media outlet is pounding out the drumbeat of incessant and unquestioning support for the vaccination campaign, perhaps there is no great demand for a “Catholic” version of the same fare. Who checks the fact-checkers?
If the marketplace of the internet has proven unreceptive to CFC initiative, there is precedent for the flop. Recall that while Mother Angelica was building a broadcasting juggernaut at EWTN, the Catholic bishops of the US were nervously working to set up a competitor. The bishops’ efforts failed; there is nothing left to bear witness to the many hours of discussion (not to mention millions of dollars) they invested in their stillborn venture.
Just just last year Bishop Robert Barron floated a proposal for “yellow-check” system whereby the bishops, or their appointed “fact-checkers” could certify that an internet outlet was faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Although the dangers of Bishop Barron’s proposal should be immediately evident, I took the time to explain why “Our Bishops Cannot Be Trusted with a Yellow-Check System.” Any internet outlet looking for the bishops’ stamp of approval would be under pressure to humor the bishops’ preferences on matters that do not involve the content of Catholic doctrine. They would be tempted to soft-pedal stories of corruption, for example. Remember how slow the “official” Catholic media outlets were to report on the sex-abuse scandal?
Or look at the track record of institutions that the American bishops have been asked to supervise. Thirty-two years have passed, and a generation of college students has come and gone, since Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae, charging bishops with the responsibility for ensuring that Church-run colleges and universities were authentically Catholic in their teaching and their campus life. Most still aren’t.
When Father James Martin can win the endorsement of ranking prelates for his favorable treatment of homosexuality, both readers and editors should be wary of any initiative that relies on bishops’ endorsements. But the CFC initiative goes beyond Bishop Barron’s proposal, enlisting the help of secular censors to patrol the Catholic media.
Just yesterday that Catholic world celebrated the feast of St. Hilary of Poitier, and we heard once again how the “Athanasius of the West” chastised Catholic leaders who courted the favor of worldly powers: “The Church seeks for secular support, and in so doing insults Christ by the implication that His support is insufficient.” Surely that scolding applies to Catholic publishers who make common cause with Google, and help the media giant shrink the boundaries of accepted public discussion.
The above comes from a Jan. 14 posting by Phil Lawler on CatholicCulture.org.