IT ALL STARTED when we heard unconfirmed reports that the pope had met with Kim Davis in a private audience during his visit to Washington.
Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, recently denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds. Since same-sex civil marriage is now legal in the United States and county clerks are required by law to issue licenses, her actions sparked controversy – and rumor – especially after Davis met with the pope.
My Facebook feed exploded. Some friends said the pope was “no longer cool.” Another said the pope opposed the Supreme Court, while another dismissed the pope altogether.
“Wait a sec,” I said.
I was amazed that such smart people would jump to conclusions so easily.
After only one unconfirmed report of Pope Francis giving a rosary and encouraging words to Kim Davis, my friends were ready to discount the pope’s teachings on helping the poor, on climate change, and on humility and service.
But that’s the power of a good rumor.
A rumor has just enough truth to carry a story and just enough scandal to sell it. Some are based on lies that are easy to believe and easy to repeat, leading a lot of people to jump to conclusions. In the short run, believing a rumor can make you look stupid. In the long run, believing a rumor can ruin a life.
That’s why rumors are so insidious and dangerous for everyone, whether you’re in high school or reigning from on high.
Falsehood Dressed as Truth
It almost didn’t matter to my friends that the Vatican released a clarification that there had been no private audience and that the meeting “should not be considered a form of support of her position.”
It didn’t matter to my friends that I explained Catholic teaching on the subject. It didn’t matter when I explained how local notables get to meet the pope. Nothing mattered because the first rumor was so good.
That’s what happens in high school, too, on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Somebody says something false, but it’s dressed in the clothing of truth. If Christy was at the party, it’s much easier to tell a rumor about her kissing Adam, even if she didn’t even talk to him all night. If Clarence doesn’t like Tisha, it’s a lot easier to believe that she’d say something nasty about him, even if she never did.
Why do we believe everything we’re told without checking it out, first? What really happened was a misunderstanding. Getting to meet the pope is a big thing, but a lot of people meet the pope. Immigrants, babies, notables, nobodies, Fidel Castro.
For some people, though, what they heard falsely meant that they could no longer believe in Pope Francis’ message of love and brotherhood. That’s really sad!
Don’t jump to conclusions when you hear a salacious story on the Internet or in the halls of your high school. Don’t believe a rumor just because someone repeats it or because it seems as if it could be true.
Make sure it is actually true. Do your research. Talk to the people involved. Try not to make snap judgments about people or what they believe based on things you’ve heard, and don’t hang out with people who do. Before you jump to conclusions, get the whole story.
And don’t worry – the cool pope is still very, very cool.
Osborne contributes to a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.