Image: Screengrab of the Facebook page of CNA Executive Director Alejandro Bermudez
In a brief statement today, Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of the Catholic News Agency and ACI Prensa, indicated that his signature was added to the Filial Correction without his knowledge or consent. “I was surprised to see that my name has been added to the list of signatories on the so-called Correctio Filialis De Haeresibus Propagatis,” the statement reads. “I never signed this letter, nor do I intend to ever sign it. As a journalist, I was surprised at how easily the name of a person could be added to the list without any verification.”
In the Spanish version of his statement, Bermudez took the matter further, saying that in an e-mail exchange with Dr. Joseph Shaw, spokesman for the Filial Correction, he wrote that the appearance of his name without his permission “speaks volumes about the lack of seriousness of this initiative. Please remove my name immediately.”
Bermudez has been openly critical of the Filial Correction, sharing a post today on his Facebook page in which he linked to the most recent episode of his Spanish-language podcast “Punto de Vista”, which he dedicated to discussion of this topic.
This morning, Bermudez’ name could still be viewed among the list of signatories, but as of this writing, it has been removed from the list.
On change.org, one of the largest websites dedicated to hosting petitions and open letters, the user policy forbids the impersonation of others. “Don’t sign petitions for other people,” the policy states, “use anyone else’s email address, or impersonate people, including public figures or organizations.” The submission form on correctiofilialis.org does not mention such a policy, but those who wish to sign must enter their name, email, and title. A response to the submitted form says, “Thank you! Your name will be considered for a ‘moderated’ list of scholars, academics and pastors.”
The appearance of Bermudez’ signature on the Filial Correction raises questions of unlawful forgery, and the lengths to which opponents of the Correction will go in order to discredit the effort and its authors. According to legal information website Findlaw.com, forgery is defined as including “a false document” or “signature” that is “used with the intent to deceive another.” “Those who commit forgery,” the site reads, “are often charged with the crime of fraud.” The site describes identity theft as “a crime wherein the perpetrator wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception”. The question of whether criminal activity was perpetrated in this situation remains open, though the submission of a faked signature was clearly unethical.
If the purpose in such an action was to call into question the integrity of the list of signatories, Bermudez’ reaction appears to have validated the perpetrator’s intent. The indignation expressed in his statement was notably not directed at whoever was responsible for his unauthorized impersonation, but rather at the authors of the Correction itself, and their alleged “lack of seriousness” — a claim that only serves to bolster his own ongoing criticisms of the effort. An update to Bermudez statement was made this afternoon indicating the removal of his name.
Since the Filial Appeal was first published on Saturday, defenders of Amoris Laetitia have pressed the attack against both the signatories and authors of the document, resorting to ad hominem invective while refusing to offer a substantive theological critique. With news of fake signatories being added to the document in an effort to cast doubt on its trustworthiness, some wonder what desperate measures opponents will not resort to in order to keep the discussion away from the “heresies” the authors have accused the pope of “propagating” through his “words, deeds and omissions”.
In a statement to 1P5, Dr. Joseph Shaw said that “The organisers have become aware of attempts to cause embarrassment both to them and to certain Catholic figures by impersonating the latter to add their names to the petition. Although a very small number of names is affected, the organisers take this fraudulent activity very seriously and have taken steps to remove these names from the list and to prevent this happening again. Those responsible for this fraud should be aware of of moral and legal seriousness of their actions.”
Shaw’s statement that “a very small number of names” has been affected indicates that other signatures have likely also been faked, though no additional names have been made public at this time.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.