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 Sera.* The piece had a misleading headline and made it seem like Francis had uttered Paul VI’s words. The Italian version of the Huffington Post then picked up the story, and it was then translated into English.
“There is a fundamental rule in journalism. That is double-checking, and in this case it was not done,” the Vatican’s deputy spokesman, Father Ciro Benedettini, said on Saturday, according to Reuters.
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. That seems to be a big conclusion from Francis saying “the Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this marvelous plan cannot but affect all that which surrounds us and which emerged from the thought and the heart of God.”
Correction, Dec. 15, 2014: This piece originally misspelled the name of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.