Tin foil hats at NYTimes as fake JP2 quote on animals becomes conspiracy fodder

The problems with the New York Times story "Dogs in Heaven? Pope Francis Leaves Pearly Gates Open" begin with the fact that the article itself is a mutt. Although reporter Rick Gladstone uses a recent quote from Pope Francis as a news hook, the body of the piece reads like a domestic rewrite of the U.K. Guardian's Nov. 27 article "It’s a dog’s afterlife: Pope Francis hints that animals go to heaven."

Both the Times and Guardian's main point may be gathered from the satirical headline of Mark Shea's excellent rebuttal to the Guardian"Pope Discusses New Heaven and New Earth for Very First Time in Catholic History." The Times, however, adds a new, conspiratorial wrinkle: John Paul II said that animals had souls, but the Vatican failed to "widely publicize" this, perhaps because it contradicted Pius IX, under whose pontificate the doctrine of papal infallibility was defined.

You can't make this stuff up. Or, rather, you can, and Rick Gladstone, or his editor, has done so.

Saith the Times:

The question of whether animals go to heaven has been debated for much of the church’s history. Pope Pius IX, who led the church from 1846 to 1878, longer than any other pope, strongly supported the doctrine that dogs and other animals have no consciousness. ...
Pope John Paul II appeared to reverse Pius in 1990 when he proclaimed that animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” But the Vatican did not widely publicize his assertion, perhaps because it so directly contradicted Pius, who was the first to declare the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1854.

Let us put aside the error on who declared the doctrine of papal infallibility (the First Vatican Council, not Pius IX alone), and when it was declared (1870, not 1854 -- the latter was the date of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). Let us also put aside the fact that the Times cites as its source for papal infallibility CatholicBible101.com, which is not exactly the most reliable source, being just some earnest member of the faithful's home page (with 1990s-style animated graphics).

Let us also put aside whether Pius IX literally said that "animals have no consciousness," as we don't want to be here until Christmas fact-checking the Times. Let us simply look at the purported 1990 claim from John Paul II that "animals do have souls and are 'as near to God as men are.'" Did the pope really say that?

Gladstone does not cite a source for the claim, though it may easily be found by putting "popes" and "animals" into an online search, which turns up items by animal advocates like this:

In 1990, His Holiness proclaimed that "the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren." He went on to say that all animals are "fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect" and that they are "as near to God as men are." Animal lovers everywhere were overjoyed!

Had Gladstone searched for the source of the quotation, however, he would have learned that the reason it was not "widely publicized" by the Vatican was not because it "contradicted" a previous papal pronouncement. It was not widely publicized because Pope John Paul II never said it.

A writer for the U.K. magazine Faith did the legwork:

This citation and quotation, as well as the conclusions drawn from it, are acutely problematic. The words are at best a very rough translation and they convey a sense which is in tension with Church Tradition concerning the uniquely spiritual (non-physical) human soul. ...
Translating from the official Italian version on the Vatican website we see that the Pope actually stated: "Other texts, however, admit that animals too have a breath or vital spirit received from God. In this regard, man, coming from God's hands, appears in solidarity with all living beings" (n. 4). He was speaking of Psalm 104, which focuses upon the shared dignity of all living creatures. The Pope also affirms that "when Genesis chapter two speaks of the creation of the animals (Gen 2:19), it doesn't mention such a close relation with the breath of God" (n. 3).
Furthermore, the sentence about animals being "as near to God as men are" simply does not appear in the Pope's text at all. (This phrase, and the above rough translations, are in fact in an online translation of a Roman priest's apparent paraphrasing of the audience, just after it took place, as quoted by Genre magazine.)

If the Times wants assurance of permanent residency in circulation heaven, it would be wise for the paper's editorial staff to check their facts and sources, instead of positing conspiracy theories for cover-ups of quotes that don't exist.

Update, 12/13/14: David Gibson says, "Sorry, Fido, Pope Francis did NOT say pets are going to heaven."


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