Did Pope Francis say that pedophiles have a special place in heaven? No, that's not true: There is no record of Pope Francis saying that, as an article in NewsPunch claims. Other quotes in this article are real quotes from the pope that were taken out of context and their meaning reversed.
The article was published by NewsPunch on February 20, 2023, titled "Pope Francis Declares 'Pedophiles Have a Special Place in Heaven'" (archived here). It opened:
Pope Francis has scandalized victims of sexual abuse by declaring that pedophilia is a mysterious illness and we must not judge those who are suffering from it. Instead, according to the pope, we must accept that God loves pedophiles, he created them for a reason, and he has reserved a special place in heaven for them.
This is how the article thumbnail appears at the time of writing:
Pope Francis Declares 'Pedophiles Have a Special Place in Heaven' - News Punch
NewsPunch, originally Your News Wire, is among the most prolific online publishers of fake news. NewsPunch has published numerous fake news articles in the past, so anything it publishes should be taken with a large grain of salt. Its Facebook page, "The People's Voice," lost its verification checkmark, according to a 2018 report from Media Matters For America.
The image used in the NewsPunch article shows Pope Francis with a black eye and a small bandage on his eyebrow. It is derived from a real photo by Catholic News Service photographer Paul Haring (archived here and pictured below on the far right). On September 10, 2017, Pope Francis was injured in Cartagena, Colombia when the popemobile stopped short and he lost his balance.
Lead Stories flipped the altered photo (center) to aid in comparing it to the original. The photo has some small edits: It has been reversed, the background color changed, and the color and contrast brightened. This darkens the bruise and accentuates wrinkles, but the black eye and bandage are authentic. There is one additional edit that altered the pope's expression. The corners of his mouth were pulled up slightly while the distance from the lower lip to the jaw was extended.
(Image source: Lead Stories composite with newspunch.com and americamagazine.org screenshots taken on Wed Feb 22 19:14:36 2023 UTC)
The image of a tweet in the article thumbnail (pictured above left) is fabricated. Pope Francis does have a verified Twitter account @Pontifex, but a Twitter search shows he never published a tweet saying, "God welcomes pedophiles in his heavenly kingdom." There is also no record of the pope saying, "God loves pedophiles." Search results for that phrase and "Pope Francis" tie to sources associated with this NewsPunch article.
The text of the article continues:
According to Francis, we must accept pedophiles because they have existed throughout history, in all cultures and societies. 'Sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies,' he said. 'I am reminded of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings - frequently children - in pagan rites.'
The words that appear above in quotation marks (and in bold below) were taken from a February 24, 2019, address by the pope at the end of the eucharistic concelebration. The original address on "The Protection of Minors in the Church" can be found in full on the Vatican website. NewsPunch has taken phrases from the address and presented them in a fabricated context. The address had no focus on accepting pedophiles or child abuse. It said in part (bolded emphasis from Lead Stories):
Our work has made us realize once again that the gravity of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies. Only in relatively recent times has it become the subject of systematic research, thanks to changes in public opinion regarding a problem that was previously considered taboo; everyone knew of its presence yet no one spoke of it. I am reminded too of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings - frequently children - in pagan rites. Yet even today, the statistics available on the sexual abuse of minors drawn up by various national and international organizations and agencies (the WHO, UNICEF, INTERPOL, EUROPOL and others) do not represent the real extent of the phenomenon, which is often underestimated, mainly because many cases of the sexual abuse of minors go unreported, particularly the great number committed within families.
The remainder of the NewsPunch article recycles topics from existing NewsPunch articles regarding things the pope was purported to have said (examples here and here). This fact check is focused only on the main claim in the headline.
Lead Stories has debunked many false claims published by NewsPunch in the past. They can be found here.