False claim Pope Francis said Catholics could 'eat whatever you want' during Lent | Fact check

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The claim: Pope Francis said Catholics should ‘eat whatever you want’ during Lent

A Feb. 14 Facebook post (direct link, archive link) includes a supposed message from Pope Francis to Catholics about their diet in the weeks leading up to Easter.

“Eat whatever you want for Lent,” begins the purported quote from Francis. “The sacrifice is not in the stomach, but in the heart. They refrain from eating meat, but don’t talk to their siblings or relatives, don’t visit their parents or bother to attend to them.”

Francis supposedly goes on to say it is less important to follow dietary restrictions than to seek a “deeper relationship with God through better treatment of others.”

It was shared more than 700 times in five days. Other versions of the claim spread widely on Facebook and X, formerly Twitter.

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Our rating: False

Francis has made no such statement in his speeches for Lent since he became pope. There are also no credible reports of Francis making the remarks in any other context.

Francis' Lent speeches talk about service, not diet

Lent is a 40-day period in which Christians are encouraged to pray, fast and serve others before the Easter celebration. In particular, Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the observance.

There is no evidence Francis told Catholics that doing so is unnecessary.

No such remarks appear in the Vatican’s translated transcript of Francis’ 2024 message for Lent, which described the freedom offered through a relationship with God. Neither does the quotation appear in any of Francis’ Lent messages since he became pope in 2013.

He has touched on some of the post’s broader themes of sacrifice and service in various speeches ahead of the Lenten season.

His first such message as pope said Lent was a “fitting time” for Christians to commit to self-denial and “ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.”

His 2018 message urged others to join the Catholic Church in offering “whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need” during and beyond the Lenten season.

Additionally, Francis' 2023 message said Lenten penance is an opportunity to commit to following Jesus, though doing so requires “effort, sacrifice and concentration.”

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Pope Francis gives his blessing during the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on January 3, 2024.
Pope Francis gives his blessing during the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on January 3, 2024.

USA TODAY has debunked an array of false claims about Francis, including that a video shows him acknowledging a “secret agenda,” that he authorized the World Economic Forum to rewrite the Bible and that he called for “human depopulation” to save the planet.

USA TODAY reached out to the Vatican and users who shared the post for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

Rappler also debunked the claim.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lent quote attributed to Pope Francis is fabricated | Fact check