Apparently Pope Francis didn’t say that all dogs go to heaven.
It sounded like a story that was a bit too perfect to be true. Pope Francis, the pontiff who always seems to be breaking with the strict tone of his predecessor to portray the Catholic Church as a warm and inviting place, told a boy who was devastated by the death of his dog not to worry—the two would meet up in heaven. “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures,” Francis allegedly told the boy, at least according to the hundreds of news outlets that picked up the hard-to-resist, immediately viral story. CNN reported it, the New York Times put it on its front page, and it began populating Facebook news feeds around the world.
The problem is it never happened. Francis never comforted that young boy and never specifically mentioned dogs and heaven. What really happened was an example of how a mistranslated story can make its way around the world, all because it was picked up by the right people.
The now-infamous words were, in fact, uttered by a pope: Paul VI, who died in 1978, explains Religion News Service, which tracked down patient zero as a piece in Italy’s Corriere della Serra.
The New York Times acknowledged its mistake with a long correction but continued standing by the main gist of the story. “The correction in the Times notes that the specific content and wording were wrong in the article. However, the pope did in fact make comments suggesting heaven is open to animals,” a spokeswoman for the Times tells Reuters.
For those of us to whom the concept of heaven and hell is a control mechanism concocted by the church to keep the masses in line with promises and threats, it is especially cruel to say that no, some of the sweetest souls you knew in life would be denied a place in paradise because they don’t deserve it.
It’s too bad that the Catholic church even has to have a discussion about it. If their god is so all-loving, then it might be in his or her nature to promise that Sam will be waiting for me when I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Cartoon by Charles Barsotti.