Fake News: Pope Francis Did NOT Give Pedophile Priest Diplomatic Immunity To Avoid Prison

Fact Check

  • by: Maarten Schenk
Fake News: Pope Francis Did NOT Give Pedophile Priest Diplomatic Immunity To Avoid Prison

Did Pope Francis give diplomatic immunity to a priest named Carlo Alberto Capella for the express purpose of avoiding a jail sentence for posessing and trading child pornography? No, that's not true: an article with a highly misleading headline to that effect was posted by a site that regularily twists the facts in its headlines and the first paragraphs of its articles in order to attract more viewers in order to make money from advertising. The reality is a bit more nuanced and ended with the priest being sentenced to five years in a Vatican jail.

The story originated from an article published by YourNewsWire on June 24, 2018 titled "Pope Francis Gives Pedophile Priest 'Diplomatic Immunity' To Avoid Prison" (archived here) which opened:

A pedophile priest caught with child pornography while working in Washington has escaped prosecution by U.S. authorities because Pope Francis granted him diplomatic immunity, according to reports.

Carlo Alberto Capella was in the U.S. as a senior Vatican diplomat when he was caught with a trove of indecent images and videos of children being sexually abused that investigators claim he was trading internationally with other pedophiles.

Described as an "open and shut case" that should have landed the pedophile priest in prison for years, the U.S. authorities were "powerless" to prosecute him after the Vatican insisted he was diplomatically immune and must be allowed to leave the country, according Reuters news agency.

The Reuters article the story is based on tells a different story:

Ex Vatican diplomat found guilty of possessing child pornography

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican court on Saturday sentenced a Catholic priest to five years in jail for possessing child pornography while he was based in the United States as a diplomat. Carlo Alberto Capella will serve time in the small jail inside the Vatican police force headquarters, the Vatican said.

To summarize:

  • As a diplomat the priest would have already had immunity before any of this came to light so the Pope didn't "give" it to him to avoid a prison sentence.
  • The Vatican merely refused to withdraw it since they wanted to try and convict him themselves.
  • The priest was eventually convicted by a Vatican court to five years imprisonment so if the goal was to avoid a prison sentence it certainly didn't work.

As the Wikipedia article on Diplomatic Immunity notices, it is rare for countries to waive diplomatic immunity, with many of them prefering to prosecute misbehaving diplomats themselves:

It is possible for the official's home country to waive immunity; this tends to happen only when the individual has committed a serious crime, unconnected with their diplomatic role (as opposed to, say, allegations of spying), or has witnessed such a crime. However, many countries refuse to waive immunity as a matter of course; individuals have no authority to waive their own immunity (except perhaps in cases of defection). Alternatively, the home country may prosecute the individual.

YourNewsWire has published several hoaxes and fake news articles in the past so anything they write or publish should be taken with a large grain of salt. Their Facebook page "The People's Voice" recently lost its verification checkmark according to a report from MMFA.

The Terms of Use of the site also make it clear they don't really stand behind the accuracy of any of their reporting:


The site was profiled in the Hollywood reporter where it was described as:

Your News Wire, a 3-year-old website of murky facts and slippery spin, is published by Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Treadway -- a Bernie Sanders supporter in 2016 -- out of an apartment in L.A.'s historic El Royale.

RationalWiki described it as:

YourNewsWire (styled as YourNewsWire.com[1]) is an Los Angeles-based clickbait fake news website known for disseminating conspiracy theories and misleading information, contrary to its claimed motto ("News. Truth. Unfiltered").[1]

A while ago we also reported that YourNewsWire had rebranded itself as NewsPunch by changing its domain name in an apparent effort to evade filtering/blocking. It appears the site has changed back to it's old name in the mean time but you can still see the NewsPunch name in the contact email address in the footer.

We wrote about yournewswire.com before, here are our most recent articles that mention the site:

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  Maarten Schenk

Lead Stories co-founder Maarten Schenk is our resident expert on fake news and hoax websites. He likes to go beyond just debunking trending fake news stories and is endlessly fascinated by the dazzling variety of psychological and technical tricks used by the people and networks who intentionally spread made-up things on the internet.  He can often be found at conferences and events about fake news, disinformation and fact checking when he is not in his office in Belgium monitoring and tracking the latest fake article to go viral.

Read more about or contact Maarten Schenk

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