ROME — Popular Pope Francis will turn 80 on December 18, and he seems to be getting feistier with age.
Although the pope has never been one to mince words, condemning idle gossip, shaming fundamentalism as idolatry, and even questioning president-elect Donald Trump’s claims to be a Christian, he has now taken his rhetoric to a new level.
On Wednesday, the Vatican released the transcript of an interview with the Belgian Catholic paper Tertio in which Francis accused the faction of the media intent on spreading fake news of coprophilia, defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “marked interest in excrement; especially the use of feces or filth for sexual excitement.” He also accused consumers of such fake news of coprophagia or, essentially, feeding on dung.
“I believe that the media should be very clear, very transparent, and not fall prey— without offense, please—to the sickness of coprophilia, which is always wanting to communicate scandal, to communicate ugly things, even though they may be true,” he said. “And as people tend to suffer from coprophagia, it can be very harmful.”
To be fair, Francis was asked specifically about the media at the end of a wide-ranging interview that touched on the separation of religion from politics, interreligious dialogue and war. As a penultimate question, the interviewer asked, “Holy Father, regarding the media: a consideration regarding the means of communication” to which he piled praise on the press, calling them “builders of opinion” who can “do immense good, immense.”
“Nowadays they have in their hands the possibility and the capacity to form opinion,” he said. “They can form a good or a bad opinion. The means of communication are the builders of a society.”
Then he let the interviewer know what he really thinks. “And the communications media have their temptations.
They can be tempted by calumny, and therefore used to slander, to sully people, especially in the world of politics,” he said. “They can be used as a means of defamation: every person has the right to a good reputation, but perhaps in their previous life, or ten years ago, they had a problem with justice, or a problem in their family life, and bringing this to light is serious and harmful; it can annul a person.”
He also went on to condemn what has come to be known as “fake news”: “A thing that can do great damage to the information media is disinformation: that is, faced with any situation, saying only a part of the truth, and not the rest. This is disinformation. Because you, to the listener or the observer, give only half the truth, and therefore it is not possible to make a serious judgment,” he said. “Disinformation is probably the greatest damage that the media can do, as opinion is guided in one direction, neglecting the other part of the truth.”
Perhaps his comments particularly fitting given harsh criticism recently poured on the pontiff by a faction of ultra-conservative Cardinals who want him to be more clear on where he stands on such issues as same sex unions and divorced and remarried Catholics or face the consequences.
He is also under scrutiny by the LGBT community after signing off on a document called The Gift of the Priestly Vocation which offers guidance to seminaries not to accept priest candidates who are gay. “If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director as well as his confessor have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination,” says the document, which was originally written in 2005.
Scorn has never bothered Francis in the past, and it likely won’t bother him now. In an interview with the Catholic newspaper Avvenire about his critics, he said, quite simply, “I don’t lose sleep over it.”