Pope Francis said on Friday that spreading fake news and disinformation on covid-19 and vaccines, including by Catholic media, is a violation of human rights.
It was the second time in less than month that the 85-year-old pope has spoken out on the subject. Three weeks ago, he condemned as "baseless" ideological misinformation about vaccines, backing national immunisation campaigns and calling healthcare a "moral obligation".
Francis made his comments in an address to members of catholicfactchecking.com, a consortium of Catholic media whose website says its aim is to "clarify fake news and misleading information" about vaccines against covid.
"To be properly informed, to be helped to understand situations based on scientific data and not fake news, is a human right," the pope told the group. "Correct information must be ensured above all to those who are less equipped, to the weakest and to those who are most vulnerable."
Francis decried a spreading "infodemic," which he said was a distortion of reality based on fear, falsified or invented news and "allegedly scientific information".
Believers of fake news should not be placed in "ghettos" but attempts should be made to try to win them over to the scientific truth.
"Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility," Francis said.
It was significant that the pope made the address to a Catholic media group. Some right-wing Catholic outlets, blogs and websites have been shut down by social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for spreading covid disinformation. Many have moved to other platforms.
Some right-wing Catholic media regularly host Francis' most severe critics, such as Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, an Italian who has been in hiding for nearly three years since issuing a statement against Francis demanding his resignation.
In a letter to followers this month, Vigano said the virus was produced in a lab was part of a global plot "to erase all traces of our identity as Christians".
He has also denied the pandemic exists and has called it the work of Satan.