False: Viral image shows Pope John Paul II with Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

By: Nikita Kochhar
January 16 2023

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False: Viral image shows Pope John Paul II with Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.


The Verdict False

The image has been digitally altered. The original picture captured in 1985 did not feature Pope Francis.

Claim ID 5f3b364f


A black and white image doing the rounds on Facebook claims to show former Pope John Paul II with Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. The post accompanying the photo read: "A photo of our last three popes, Pope Saint John Paul. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. They didn't know it at the time, but GOD did." The photo was posted on the social media platform by a page that described itself as the official page of Bishop John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley. The page has over 19,000 followers, and the photograph has been liked by over a thousand users. However, the photo, which was shared just six days after Pope Benedict XVI's death on December 31, 2022, was digitally altered. 


In Fact

Through a keyword search, we found that the original photograph, which is a zoomed-out version of the viral photo, was taken in 1985 by photojournalist Massimo Sambucetti for Associated Press(AP). The title of the image in the AP Photo library reads: "VATICAN POPE JOHN PAUL II GREETS JOSEPH CARDINAL RATZINGER." Born in Germany in 1927, Pope Benedict XVI, whose original name was Joseph Alois Ratzinger, became head of the Catholic Church in 2005 following the death of Pope John Paul II. As the two are captured shaking hands in the photograph, a third man in the background looks on. However, the third man is not Pope Francis as featured in the viral picture, indicating that it has been edited. The image's description mentions that the men in the photo are "Pope John Paul II and west German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's chief heresy-fighter." The photo captures them exchanging Christmas greetings at the Vatican City on Friday, December 20, 1985. The website doesn't mention the details of the third person in the photo. 

 We also found that the same image was carried by the Peru-based news agency Aciprenca (a Catholic News Agency(CNA) sister agency) in 2013. The report on the Spanish website dated March 14, 2013, states that the third man in the picture is, in fact, Cardinal Edouard Gagnon— a late Canadian cardinal who was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family from 1985 to 1990". The report clarified that Jorge Bergoglio (today Pope Francis) was not a part of the original photograph. "This cardinal died in 2007, and Pope Benedict XVI remembered him as a "faithful pastor who, with an evangelical spirit, consecrated his life to the service of Christ and his Church," the report added.  

 Logically's research found that the viral image has been making rounds on social media since 2013; however, it resurfaced in 2023, following the death of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died at the age of 95 in a monastery in the Vatican. He had resigned from the papacy in 2013 and was the first Pope to do so in almost 600 years. 


The Verdict

The viral image has been digitally altered to show the three popes together in one frame. Pope Francis has been morphed into the picture. Therefore, we mark this claim false.

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Global Fact-Checks Completed

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