Several media outlets have been claiming that Pope Francis expressed support for hookup apps such as Tinder and Grindr during a documentary-interview with a diverse group of young people that was streamed on Hulu.
The conversation with a group of ten young people between 20 and 25 years old was filmed in June 2022 by atheist Spanish producer Jordi Evolé and turned into a documentary titled “The Pope: Answers,” and released by the streaming service on April 5, Holy Wednesday.
In its coverage of the event, Catholic News Service’s Rome staff writer Justin McLellan mischaracterized the Pope’s answer regarding hookup apps, especially Tinder. According to McLellan, “the young people, a mix of Catholics, Christians, agnostics, atheists and a Muslim, asked the Pope if he has a salary (no), a cell phone (no), and what he thinks about young people meeting romantic partners on Tinder.”
The Catholic News Service story, quickly picked up by outlets like the National Catholic Reporter, claimed that Pope Francis’ response was “It’s normal,” and “Young people have that eagerness to meet each other, and that’s very good.”
But that’s not what happened.
The actual exchange and its context were much different. In reality, the pope was responding to a question from Celia, a young Spanish woman who described herself as non-binary. Celia, who is previously shown by the producers of the documentary in bed with her female partner, asks the pope if he knows what Tinder is.
“No, dear. You are embarrassing me, I feel old-fashioned,” Francis responds with a smile.
Celia then describes Tinder to the pope as an app designed to “help young people meet” and even meet “people willing to have sex.”
The pope reiterates that he does not have a mobile phone and, when another young person presses him, adds: “I don’t know, yes, it’s okay, to meet people. Normal,” highlighting that “young people have that eagerness to meet each other, and that’s very good.”
That’s very different from saying Tindr or Grinder, which promote the very “hookup” and “throwaway” cultures that Francis has so roundly condemned, are “normal” ways to seek human relationships.
The most charitable interpretation of McLellan’s gaff is that he was the victim of selective hearing, subconsciously hacking and splicing the interview and reporting what he wanted Francis to say rather than the actual on-screen conversation.
But if McLellan’s story is what it appears to be – a deliberate misrepresentation of the pope’s response – it is absolutely reprehensible. No Catholic news organization, or any media outlet for that matter, should countenance such mendacious reporting.
We can debate the wisdom of Francis’ (or his handlers’) decision to submit to a Disney director’s editorial discretion. Disney employees aren’t exactly known for being sympathetic to Catholic beliefs.
But there is no debate on two points. Headlines as misleading as “Pope says Tindr is ‘normal’” should never have made the cut. And “reporters” who propose them are truly the wolves among the sheep.