Back to Africa Check

No, Pope Francis not arrested

On 9 January 2021, viewers of the Vatican City’s live news feed on YouTube reported there was a brief electricity blackout at the Vatican.

The Vatican City is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and home to Pope Francis, the global head of the church since 2013. 

Claims that Francis had been arrested during the supposed blackout soon began to circulate on social media. 

One tweet read: “3 hours ago Pope Francis aka Jorge Bergoglio was arrested 80 counts indictment possession of porn, human trafficking, incest, possession of drug paraphernalia felony fraud and more holy chit.”

A video posted on Facebook raised further suspicions. Part of the video’s voiceover says: “They’ve got blackouts, the pope is being arrested with child pornography.”

The Canadian website Conservative Beaver – which has previously published disproven conspiracy theoriesposted details of the alleged charges against the pope, including human trafficking and possession of child pornography. 

Is there any truth to these claims?

pope pic

Pope and Vatican continue to fill busy schedule

On 10 January, a day after the alleged blackout and arrest, Francis appeared on the Vatican News live video stream to lead the angelus prayer.

The pope was also active on Twitter, tweeting at least four times. In his last tweet of the day he said he was “praying for the United States of America, shaken by the recent attack on Congress”, referring to the attack by supporters of president Donald Trump on the US Congress in the Capitol building.

A tour guide called Mountain Butorac told the Catholic News Agency that there had been no “massive blackout” near St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on 9 January. 

Butorac reposted a clip from the live video of the night of 9 January on his blog, which showed that while the screen went dark, probably as the exposure of the camera changed, lights were on. 

He said: “You can see the dome, you can see the lights of the colonnade, you can see some office/apartment lights, you can see the nativity lights, you can see the Christmas tree star.”

The Catholic News Agency also received reports from residents of the Vatican who said there was no power outage on 9 January.

The video posted on Facebook was in fact filmed on 20 September 2020, and shows the motorcade for US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on his way to meet Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome. Corriere della Sera, an Italian news channel, has footage of the same motorcade. 

Pope Francis appeared on live video on 10 January 2021 and there is no credible evidence or reports from trustworthy news sources that he has been arrested on any of the charges rumoured on social media.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters