Propagandists target Catholic Church after Duterte rant vs God

Paterno Esmaquel II
Over the weekend, Rappler receives nearly 30 reports about fake news on the Catholic Church. The fake news items spare no one, from Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to Pope Francis himself.

MANILA, Philippines – Shortly after President Duterte’s rant against God fueled public outrage, trolls and fake news makers got down to business.  

On cue, pro-Duterte propagandists quickly churned out fake news articles against the Catholic Church. 

This coincided with Malacañang’s damage control, including the move to dialogue with the Catholic Church, following the backlash of Duterte’s “God is stupid” remarks. 

The fake news makers spared no one – from Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to Pope Francis himself, who was shown in a manufactured photo kissing a woman’s chest.

While the deluge of fake news intensified after Duterte ranted against God, it actually began days before this. 

The initial attacks happened alongside rallies to denounce the killing of Father Richmond Nilo, the 3rd Catholic priest slain in less than 7 months. 

Nilo was killed on June 10 and was buried on June 15, while Duterte made his “God is stupid” comment on June 22.

Fact-check articles

Since June 24, Rappler has fact-checked at least 6 hoax or misleading articles on the Catholic Church. And there is much more online.

Just over the weekend, we received at least 27 reports from different individuals alerting us about fake news on the Catholic Church.

“It bothers me that people actually believe this,” one of the concerned netizens told us through a private message.

Another said that fake news on the Pope supposedly defending Duterte “has misled hundreds who refuse to believe facts presented that the website is dubious.”

One of them alerted Rappler about the “Pope defends Duterte” report because he is a “strong advocate of fighting fake news.”

Rappler is gathering these reports on fake news as part of our partnership with Facebook.

Under this partnership, Rappler and another independent news website, Vera Files, review stories flagged as fake news. Stories we flag as fake news will be placed lower in people’s Facebook news feeds.

You can read our latest fact-check articles on the Catholic Church below:

These fact-check articles were among the most read pieces on Rappler the past week. 

‘It’s a way of confusing people’

In a phone interview with Rappler on Monday, July 2, Father Roy Bellen, the Archdiocese of Manila’s communications director, said he himself has noticed a deluge of fake news about the Catholic Church.

Bellen is also the general manager of TV Maria and vice president for operations of Radyo Veritas, media outlets run by the Archdiocese of Manila.

Bellen said fake news items increased as more priests and bishops became outspoken about human rights issues and other moral concerns. He said that because of this, certain sectors want to “create confusion” or sow misunderstanding among people.

“It’s a way of confusing people,” Bellen said.

He sought to clarify, however, that the Catholic Church speaks out to protect morality. “It’s very clear to the Church that it’s not about politics. It’s about morals,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“The Church is just being consistent with the mission she was entrusted with,” Bellen said.

He then cautioned Catholics against spreading lies, which is against the 8th commandment.

“Spreading lies is very unhealthy for the community. It will actually ruin the community,” Bellen said. 

Reacting to the spread of fake news on the Catholic Church, the Church-run Radyo Veritas on June 30 published a list of 5 tips to avoid falling prey to fake news.

Radyo Veritas also included a quote from Pope Francis about disinformation. Based on the official translation provided by the Vatican, the Pope said in December 2016: “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.”

The Duterte administration is accused of peddling fake news and using trolls to spread online hate. Veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas calls Duterte “the number one source of fake news.” 

The Catholic Church is one of the staunchest critics of Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign. – with reports from Miguel Imperial/Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.