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Pope Francis tells journalists to ground their work ‘on the solid rock of responsibility in truth, not on the fragile sands of gossip’

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Pope Francis speaks to members of the International Association of Journalists Accredited to the Vatican in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace Jan. 22, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — A journalist’s reporting about the Catholic Church should not aim to polarize people or push certain positions, but to seek and share the truth, Pope Francis said.

Journalists have an obligation to ground their work “on the solid rock of responsibility in truth, not on the fragile sands of gossip and ideological readings,” the pope told some 150 journalists accredited to the Vatican during a meeting Jan. 22.

Three Catholic News Service reporters attended the meeting and, like everyone present, personally greeted Pope Francis at the end of the audience.

In his speech, the pope told journalists not to “hide reality, even its miseries,” in their reporting, and said that while they should not play down tensions in the church, they also should not make “unnecessary clamor.”

“To be a journalist is a vocation, a bit like that of a doctor, who chooses to love humanity by curing its illnesses,” he said. In the same way, a journalist “chooses to touch with their hand the wounds of society and the world” in order to bring them to light.

Speaking off the cuff, Pope Francis praised the “delicacy” with which journalists report on “scandals” in the church: “They exist, and often I have seen in you a great sensitivity, a respect, an almost — I would say — ’embarrassed’ silence” when handling scandals, he said.

He encouraged them to look beyond the “appearance” of events in the church and focus instead on “substance that does not seek to conform to the superficiality of stereotypes and ready-made formulas of information (as) entertainment.”

Reporting truthfully on the church is a service to “the people of God, to the simplest people, to the church herself, which still has some way to go to communicate better with witness even before words,” he said.

The pope recalled that St. Paul VI told journalists during the Second Vatican Council that their reporting on the church must not be guided by “profane and political categories,” but rather the religious and moral purpose that informs the life of the church.

Pope Francis also thanked the journalists for the sacrifices they make to follow him on his international trips and by working on holidays and Sundays when he has events.

“I must apologize for the times in which the news that concerns me in different ways has taken you away from your families, from playing with your children,” he said. “This is very important.”

The pope said he asks parents during confession if they play with their children and said it is something mothers and fathers “should always do: play with the children.”

During his individual greetings, Pope Francis received a piece of a canoe retrieved from the Canary Islands given to him by a Spanish journalist. The islands, part of Spain, have seen thousands of migrants from the coast of West Africa arrive on its shores in recent months.

“What is happening there is terrible,” the pope responded.

Fernando Clavijo Batlle, president of the Canary Islands, met the pope Jan. 15, explaining the migration situation and inviting the pope to visit.