Last week the Vatican issued a peculiar clarification: spokesman Greg Burke denied that the Pope had called for Islam and Christianity to “merge”.

You might wonder who on earth would believe the Pope would say such a thing. Yet the story has been widely shared for months and was even picked up by the Drudge Report, one of America’s biggest news aggregators, where it would have been seen by millions around the world.

How did the story get so far? A little googling suggests that the report may have originated from a website called National Report and was gradually picked up across the web. One site ran the headline, “Pope Francis At White House: ‘Koran And Holy Bible Are The Same.’” The site reported that the Pope had claimed: “Jesus Christ, Jehovah, Allah. These are all names employed to describe an entity that is distinctly the same across the world. For centuries, blood has been needlessly shed because of the desire to segregate our faiths.”

The man on the street, with a limited interest in the Church, might believe this story at first glance.

As Jack Valero of Catholic Voices explained: “I think it fits in with what people think of Pope Francis: they see rightly he is in favour of peace and against religious violence and conclude wrongly he must think all religions are the same.”

But most people, after a pause for thought and a closer look, would soon detect the number of holes puncturing the story.

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