Fake Quotes: The Papal Edition

Within 24 hours of Cardinal Jorge Mari0 Bergoglio being named pope, I started seeing people sharing what was alleged to be a quote from him declaring that women were unfit for…well, almost everything other than being led around and told what to do by men. The “quote” that flew around Facebook among the ostensible skeptics:

Women are naturally unfit for political office. Both the natural order and facts show us that the political being par excellence is male; the Scripture shows us that woman has always been the helper of man who thinks and does, but nothing more.

And it was repeated. And repeated. And repeated. The first time I saw it, I asked for an original citation and the reply was, in essence, “The Catholic Church is a horrible, evil organization.” Well yes, it is. And therefore what? And therefore this quote is automatically accurate and there is no need to confirm it before passing it on? Is that what skepticism means? No, I don’t think it does. And it turns out there isn’t a shred of evidence to support this one.

As someone who has tracked down a lot of fake quotes over the years (and passed on one or two fake ones myself), a couple things come to mind. First, don’t presume that if you do a Google search and it comes up on a lot of websites then it must be legitimate. Those fake Founding Fathers quotes popularized by David Barton are on millions of sites, but that makes them no less fake. Second, if you look at dozens of sources and never see an original citation attached to the quote, or if you see different citations for it, that should raise a red flag. And third, beware of ellipses. They often, but not always, hide crucial text that can change the meaning of the quotes considerably.

Lastly, if a quote appears to be “too good to be true,” it may well be — but not always. A good example of the “not always” part is a quote from Christian Reconstructionist Gary North that I first heard many years ago:

“So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

When I first heard this, I thought it was just too good to be true. I know that’s what Recontructionists do believe, but would they really be this blunt about a plan that puts their deceptions on display? So I did some research and the answer was yes. I found the original article where he said that, word for word. But it’s still a bad idea to presume that a quote, or any other kind of claim, about those we oppose or even actively despise is true even if we think it fits a pattern and even if we want it to be true because it supports our position.

Just because a claim lines up with what we want to believe about those we (rightly) consider our opponents, that is not a good reason to presume that anything they are accused of must be true. I’m not merely accusing others of this, I’ve done it myself. We all have, I imagine. But it’s lazy and unskeptical and we need to take a stand against it when we see it. We need to ask for evidence before we pass along a rumor. There are more than enough good reasons to criticize the Catholic Church and its leaders; we need not invent any.

Fake quotes are as bad when they come from our side as when they come from David Barton. Worse, perhaps, because we claim to be skeptics and rationalists.


  1. says

    On the one hand, I’m glad Snopes is so quick to set the record straight. OTOH, I’m kinda disappointed to see that they blame the “far left” for the bogus quote, with no evidence at all to support that claim. (Remember, the initial fake quote of Bergoglio came from some guy posting under a pseudonym.) So did it really come from the “far left?” Or could it have come from a supporter of the new Pope, as a means of getting his critics all riled up, and then discrediting them (us)?

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Oh. I saw and think I shared this one too. Assumed it was true because it fits the mould so well.

    Have I misjudged the Pope’s character and views then?

    No so sure of that – but I will admit I should’ve checked the source more carefully and verified it.

    (I know I know, that’s true of other things too & I’ve been guilty of this on occassions before, easy to do & I’m not alone in this either.)

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @1.Raging Bee :Occams razor applies here as everywhere doesn’t it?

    The less needlessly convoluted a theory the better – it could conceivably be a papal supporter doing this as a set up but seems less likely than a Lefty. Until we have evidence to support either case, I think we have to go with the simpler less “conspiracy theory” type idea.

  4. says

    I saw that quote and it just rang false. I alerted someone who had used it on another blog and they pulled the image and then put up a much better post about what Pope Speedy Gonzales I and his henchclerics HAVE done, focusing on the “Nuns on the bus” issue.

    The idea that any cleric who is 76 years old and is NOT deeply imbued with the “TRUE SPIRIT of the RCC(TM)”* has not crossed my mind.

    * Shufflin’ the cassocks and griftin’ the rubes while makin’ sure that we keep things as they are for those of us on top.

  5. says

    It’s easy to be fooled when we’ve got plenty of people saying roughly equivalent ideas. When a claim falls well within the realm of expectation, it’s easier and natural to take it at face value. If I told you a funny thing happened to me on the way home, and I describe an amusing, plausible event, you’re probably not going to ask me for evidence.

    Of course, with celebrity and politician quotes, we probably shouldn’t relax our standards, and it’d probably be best to maintain direct links to the source when passing it on, rather than forming chains of indirect links or just block quotes without citations. We should push source citation as part of netiquette.

  6. Johnny Vector says

    I was going to share this when I first saw it, but it did seem too on the nose. I found one link that claimed to point to an original source, but that source was in Portugese, so chose not to share the quote until I could verify its accuracy.

    And the correct response for those who have passed it on is not “but I’m sure he thinks that!!!”, it’s “Oops, sorry.”

  7. jamessweet says

    Second, if you look at dozens of sources and never see an original citation attached to the quote…that should raise a red flag.

    Yes!! This is one that a lot of people don’t understand. If I Google for a quote and find a thousand websites that attribute it to John Lennon, a lot of people will say, “Oh, I guess that means he really said it!” But if not a single one of those thousand cites an original source, then that actually means it’s probably fake.

    Counter-intuitively, if you see only a few websites repeating a quote and none have an original citation, that doesn’t mean much — could just mean the few people who repeated it were lazy. I’ve seen this situation before and then, on further research, found the original source and validated the quote. But if you see dozens of websites repeating it, and not a single one of them has the original cite, then it’s almost certain to be bogus.

  8. says

    The less needlessly convoluted a theory the better…

    I agree…except that in this case, my theory is barely more convoluted than the “official explanation.” A supporter of Bergoglio can plant this fake just as easily as an opponent. And it’s not like reich-wing propagandists are above that sort of thing — for years right-wingers have been saying “Liberals all believe X!” where X = some vile stupid bullshit I’ve never heard said by any liberal I’ve ever interacted with. And religious authoritarians (like, oh, I dunno, the Catholic Church? Just sayin’) routinely defame atheists the same way.

  9. says

    I was going to share this when I first saw it, but it did seem too on the nose.

    It’s also something a man in Bergoglio’s position never really has to say. His Church already has that sentiment written deeply into their doctrine, his supporters already know he follows the doctrine, and they all agree that such a doctrine has the best chance of being enacted when it’s not getting attention in the media.

  10. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    Just because a claim lines up with what we want to believe about those we (rightly) consider our opponents, that is not a good reason to presume that anything they are accused of must be true. I’m not merely accusing others of this, I’ve done it myself.

    A lot of people, if not all of us, probably spread a false assertion at some point. That’s not necessarily a failure of character but instead an opportunity to learn a lesson and adapt accordingly. It’s also and sadly, an indictment on our educational system for not sufficiently teaching people how to think critically, sufficiently promote integrity to the point there’s cultural pressure against promoting unvalidated and provocative assertions so we’re not tempted to spread unvalidated assertions, and when to accept an assertion or research it for validation.

    A test of character is whether the perpetrator both fesses up and makes a systemic change in their behavior so they don’t do it again. This is where we distinguish honest people from liars.

  11. Michael Heath says

    Abby Normal’s Abe Lincoln:

    The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity on the Internet.

    I’ll have to disagree her with ol’ honest Abe here. From my perspective it’s never been easier to verify quotes because of the Internet. I did of course also enjoy this joke.

  12. says

    Ed: sorry, where does Snopes’ source say that?

    Here’s another reason to suspect this may be the work of a pro-Bergoglio propagandist: why would a leftist wait until Bergoglio becomes Pope to make up a fake quote about him? Wouldn’t an actual Argentine leftist have tried this sort of attack on Bergoglio (a rightist enemy in his own country) a lot earlier, if he was inclined to do this sort of thing?

    Actual left-wing opponents of Bergoglio have had reasons to attack him for a long time. His supporters in the Church, however, have a reason to discredit the left that they didn’t have before: they have to deflect attention away from their new Pope’s past misdeeds.

  13. says

    Oh, and +1 to Ibis3. How is this Pope even remotely comparable to a toon from the last century? That’s a fucking lame comparison, even by the standards of racist stereotyping.

  14. says


    I saw that quote and it just rang false.

    Same for me. I think that when you’ve been steeped in Catholicism, you recognize the Catholic brand of lunacy and this sounded more like a protestant brand. Catholic looks more like this:

    It has been established on the basis of natural law, and through proper ethical discernment by those who came before within the context of the Magisterium of the Holy Church, that the woman serves, at the most fundamental level, in the role of receptive functioning, both in the receptive act of sexual love and the reception of life in concert with her proper functions, again known through proper rational discernment of evident Natural Law. While accepting that she is is an autonomous being, with free will and human dignity, entitled to political and social rights equal, not inferior or superior to the male, it is only in the receptive domain that woman can autonomously actuate the fullness of God’s love. Accordingly, political leadership, while fully the political right of women, deprives women of their highest creative potential under natural law.

  15. says

    …you recognize the Catholic brand of lunacy and this sounded more like a protestant brand.

    Well, in fairness, the Church is getting a lot of competition from Protestant rivals, so it’s reasonable to think they might be changing their tune to attract Protestant bigots.

    PS: Where did that quote of Catholic lunacy come from?

  16. says


    Where did that quote of Catholic lunacy come from?

    It’s not a real quote. Just off the top of my head, in the style of the Catholic hierarchy. Run-on sentences, equivocation, reference to sexual functions, dignity, discernment, Magisterium of the Church, rational, Natural Law, functions–plug them in any order and you’ve got a statement from the hierarchy.

  17. says

    Okay, you don’t like “Pope Speedy Gonzales I”? , fine. From now on he’s Pope Bananajunta.

    Hey, y’know what? Maybe Pope Franny will get involved in the ongoing dispute between Argentina and the UK over the Falklands and draw a new “Line of Demarcation” to supplement Pope Al VI’s.

  18. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Raging Bee … “why would a leftist wait until Bergoglio becomes Pope to make up a fake quote about him?”

    I tracked the Spanish “original” back to a question on the Spanish version of Yahoo Answers … it pre-dated Pope Benedict’s resignation by several years. The assumption is that it was intended to reflect on the presidential campaigns that were going on that year.

    If you compare the style of that fake quote with known statements made by Pope Francis, it’s a good match for his blunt manner and vocabulary level when he’s speaking off the cuff.

  19. says

    Tsu: Oops, my mistake. The “Bumper Crop” post has a note saying it’s 6 years old (“hace 6 años”), but the article quoted in Snopes says there was no mention of the quote on the Internet before “yesterday” (03/13/2013).

  20. says

    Dr. X: You could create a downloadable app and sell it to devout Catholics! Vatican-friendly columnists would all lose their jobs, but you’d make a fortune.

    Of course, if Archbishops and Cardinals mistook your app’s randomly-generated holy slush for official doctrine, you could end up with some guilty conscience if they used it to justify yet more disastrously backward management decisions. I could almost see the confused arguments that would ensue behind closed doors…

    Pope: Where did you get the go-ahead for that embarrassing fiasco?!

    Cardinal: I thought you wrote the memo!

    Pope: I wrote nothing of the sort…at least I don’t remember writing it…I gotta admit, I’ve signed so many statements with the same soporific mealy-mouthed rationalizations they all blend together in my head…there’s no limit to what we can justify with that sort of crap, which of course is why we use it.

    Cardinal: the people seem to believe it came from you.

    Pope: Oh. Okay, go with it!

  21. says


    You left out the most important line at the end of that conversation:

    Pope: now let’s have a look-see under that lovely cassock.

  22. says

    Dr. X: I was assuming he was talking to a Cardinal, not an altar-boy. And I actually think the last line should have been:

    Pope: Oh. Okay, go with it! Better than admitting I’m not infallible, at least.

  23. whheydt says

    Re: Democommie @ #21:

    The President of Argentina has, indeed, made such a request for the new Pope to try to intervene with the UK in the dispute over the Falklands. (Of course, she referred to them as the Malvinas.)

    Kind of goes with the Argentine efforts to dodge the obvious results of the recent plebiscite. A 99.8% vote is kind of hard to overlook…especially with international observers keeping an eye on the process. (And the 92% turnout is also fairly impressive.)

  24. bad Jim says

    Nobody’s going to see this, but in Italian the “g” in “gl” is silent. “Bergoglio” is pronounced “bergolio”.

    In Italian, “gn” is an “ny” glide, like “ñ” in Spanish or “nh” in Portuguese, and “gl” is an “ly” glide like “lh” in Portuguese. There must to be a principle of orthographic perversity that explains why neighboring countries make identical distinctions but spell them differently.

Leave a Reply