Sins of the Time: Fake News, a Growing Concern for the Church

HOSANA! For Filipino Catholics, Holy Week this year may be unique in some ways. There is a collective sigh of relief over the lifting of pandemic restrictions, but also a mix of hope and anxiety over the upcoming election in May. But then these earthly affairs may ultimately count for little for those who today, Palm Sunday, welcome Christ into their personal Jerusalem. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

MANILA, Philippines — Sharing fake news online is a sin that must be absolute.

The seriousness of the offense decreases if Internet users are not aware that they are sharing false news. But they will still be guilty of the sin of omission if they do not check the credibility of the information in a message as well as its source before sharing it.

Two theology scholars are issuing the warning as concern grows about the prevalence of fake news, especially in the run-up to the May 9 election. The seriousness of the problem has already prompted Metathe parent company of social media platform Facebook, to remove accounts that post misleading content.

“The conscious or deliberate dissemination or promotion of false news violates the Eighth Commandment [that says] “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,” says Fr. Angelo Paolo Asprer of the Society of Saint Paul.

Asprer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology and a master’s degree in theological studies from the Ateneo de Manila University (Admu), explains that any lie is an offense to justice and charity and “sows the seeds of division in the human community of God. ”

Prof. JayAr Babor of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Professor of Moral Theology at Admu’s Loyola School of Theology, says that spreading fake news is not only harmful to others but also constitutes deception.

Truthful, responsible

Asprer states, “We are called to be truthful, responsible and accountable for our words and actions…If a person does not know that what they are posting or sharing is false news, a person may not commit mortal sin. . [directed against God or life with full knowledge or consent]but it can be a venial sin that disrupts the relationship with God.

Babor notes that while moral responsibility diminishes in such cases, it does not exempt the person from sin. “Before transmitting, [a netizen] should check first… if the source is credible or not. Otherwise, the person commits the sin of omission,” he says.

The Catholic Church encourages worshipers to seek absolution before accepting the body of Christ during communion. A priest grants absolution when a person receives the Sacrament of Penance during confession.

Asprer and Babor warn that internet users who use cartoon characters, logos and other avatars in their social media profiles to protect their identity cannot use anonymity as a defense.

According to Asprer, once the intent to spread fake news to destroy another person’s reputation is established, it doesn’t matter whether a person is using a real photo or a cartoon character as their avatar.

Babor adds that the use of a different image to conceal their identity in itself indicates that the person is evading responsibility, “which is immoral and therefore sinful”. people, like family members or friends, do the same.

“Evil is evil even if everyone does it,” Babor points out. “Consensus or collective tolerance within the family or society does not justify the dissemination of false news.”

As Holy Week approaches, a number of diocesan priests have used the homily to warn against the harms of fake news.

Prof. Reginald Malicdem of Manila Cathedral compared fake news spreaders and believers to Jews who refused to believe in the divine mission of Jesus Christ on earth despite the testimonies of Moses and John the Baptist and his own works. Jesus.

Arrogance

“Hard-headedness is a sign of arrogance. Refusal to accept the truth is a sign of pride [and] a failure in humility,” said Malicdem. “Kapag hindi natin kayang tanggapin ang katotohanan, iyan is kayabangan.” In a March 24 sermon, Fr. Dave Concepcion of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Paco, Manila, said Jesus himself fell victim to fake news when those who were jealous of him accused him of working for Beelzebub. after exorcising an evil spirit from a mute man.

Concepcion said fighting for what you know is wrong is just arrogant and reminded that “no one chokes on their pride.”

“If we only limit ourselves to the things we want to believe in, we prevent ourselves from what we should be…” he told the congregation, adding in Filipino:

“How unfortunate it is that you lose grace simply because you refuse to let go of the lies you uphold.”

Starting from the same reading of the Gospel, Fr. Daniel Voltaire Hui, parochial vicar of the Quiapo Church, warned the faithful against complacency in the face of fake news.

“We may no longer be aware of drifting towards evil, as it has become part of our daily life,” Hui said in Filipino. “Isn’t that what fake news spreaders do? They subvert the truth and deceive people into believing lies.

Malicdem, in his homily, said choosing humility and wanting to change in the face of the truth was the best option.

“When confronted with the truth, let us be humble, accept the truth, and live by the truth…We ask for the humility to accept the truth, to be guided by the truth, and to decide based on the truth. .”

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Martha J. Finley