Who else could have followers in six figures nine days before his first tweet? For anyone else, that would take a miracle; heck, I feel blessed to have a little over 29,200. As of 11 am this morning, Pope Benedict XVI’s Twitter feed @Pontifex had over 117,000, which puts him well below Duane Patterson, but the Pope has a lot more upside. CBS reports that the leader of the Catholic Church will begin using Twitter to communicate his message and answer questions about the faith on December 12:
Pope Benedict XVI will start tweeting in six languages from his own personal handle @Pontifex on Dec. 12.
The Vatican said Monday the pope will be using a question and answer format in his first Tweet, focusing on answering questions about faith — in 140 characters.
The pope sent his first tweet last year from a Vatican account to launch the Holy See’s news information portal. The Vatican’s communications adviser Greg Burke told a press conference that the handle @Pontifex was chosen for the pope’s personal account because it not only means pope in Latin, but also bridge-builder, suggesting unity. How often will the pope tweet? Burke said, “as often as he wants.”
Honestly, I’m not sure why this is such a big story. Doesn’t everyone have a Twitter account these days — especially leaders in politics, faith, and business? Many don’t bother to engage, but use their accounts as a unidirectional broadcast medium for promotion, but some do, and do so in a positive spirit.
The positive spirit seemed singularly lacking this morning, however, as Twitchy reported. Chuck Todd noted that the vitriol got directed not just to the Pope but also those who noted the story, even dispassionately:
Memo to self: tweeting about the Pope invites even nastier replies. #twitter
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) December 3, 2012
Lori Ziganto then provides a little taste of what followed. Welcome to Twitter, indeed. That response had some Catholics on edge, too, as Ben Howe found out when he joked about “infallible tweets,” which gave me a chuckle, but apparently not everyone agreed:
With the Pope’s entrance to twitter, we finally have infallible tweets.
— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) December 3, 2012
I’ve got some catholic hate in my @ column now.I can’t imagine where they get the reputation for not having a religious sense of humor.
— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) December 3, 2012
— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) December 3, 2012
Why has the Pope decided to engage on Twitter? First, the move hardly comes as a surprise. The Catholic Church has not exactly been shy about using technology to spread the faith; their shortwave radio station has been in operation since 1931, although the Vatican was much slower to embrace television. The Vatican website has been indispensable for Catholics around the world for many years now, with all of the official documents of faith available in several languages.
This also comes as the Vatican moves forward with its Year of Faith. They have increased outreach to bloggers, although I have not been part of that effort. Elizabeth Scalia has, however, and reported in May 2011 at Patheos on the effort to both broaden contacts and get bloggers to broaden their own perspectives:
In a sense the church is as wide and deep as the Internet, but wisely constrained by the boundaries of 2000 years of well-wrought reason, and the Truth of Christ, which overcomes all of our illusions and pretenses.
Understanding that, bloggers and social media entrepreneurs have a duty to avoid the sort of narrowness of thought that is endemic to the echo chamber; we are fortunate to have a pope who has proved himself, in his book-length interviews with Peter Seewald and elsewhere, to be willing to put any idea throughout the wringer of Catholic analysis, because he is confident that a thorough discussion, rooted on the truth of Christ, will always lead us to the ends of Catholic orthodoxy, and so Pope Benedict is fearless and open, and in Christ’s truth, we can afford to be, too!
We do nothing to speed glory to the Body of Christ if we are selective toward whom we will and will not reach out.
We have no business fostering factions and enemies among ourselves, and I say this while admitting fully to my own failings.
Let’s face it, when the ego is ignited and the passions are galloping, we all too easily ignore our own better angels, and sacrifice charity for the satisfaction of a what we consider to be a well-deserved jab at some poor misguided “other” blogger.
Need I say, I go to confession a lot more frequently since I have been blogging. Bless me father, for I have sinned…it’s that damned editor at Commonweal, again…
And so it is a true gift, and a very wise thing for our hosts today to act on the urgings of the Holy Father in developing a relationship with bloggers.
In June of this year, I also wrote about the danger of pigeonholing Catholics and Catholicism in the context of politics:
In fact, try reading the position papers at the USCCB website to see how some liberal Catholics might rightly ask how Catholics can be conservatives, especially on immigration policy, health care, the death penalty, economic justice and safety-net spending, and so on. However, a thorough reading of these positions offers lessons to Catholics across the political spectrum. The bishops do not make these doctrinal positions, but instead offer their considered (and very nuanced) approach to these issues that relate to the church’s social-justice mission, with plenty of acknowledgment of well-intentioned disagreement on how best to achieve success in these and many other areas. That is why bishops and pastors wisely treat these subjects with a great deal of respect for diversity of opinion in the parishes themselves, and rarely if ever lecture on these positions from the pulpit or insinuate that disagreement separates parishioners from the church or Eucharist.
Catholic conservatives sometimes feel as though we are sometimes scorned for our approach, though, because Republicans and conservatives rarely offer a coherent philosophy on how best to deal with the very real social problems in our communities, other than insisting that more government won’t solve them. I was glad to see Paul Ryan discussing subsidiarity in his defense of his budget proposal, as many conservative Catholics see the overwhelming entitlement growth as a threat to personal and institutional action — perhaps less so than the HHS mandate, but the mandate itself springs from that accumulation of power to entitlement-program bureaucracies that conservatives within and outside of the faith see as dangerous. Few conservatives in American politics offer that kind of coherent approach, though, and to Catholics who rightly see the pain and suffering of the poor and infirm as a priority, that makes the Democratic Party look legitimately like a better option.
Right now, the excesses of the Obama administration on the HHS mandate, abortion, and perhaps even gay marriage make it less urgent for conservatives to address these shortcomings. However, if Republicans and conservatives want to win more converts from Catholic ranks, they will have to find ways to address the social-justice priorities of these voters without spitting at the term or ignoring it altogether. And perhaps there is some value in having committed Catholics, firm in their opposition to abortion, remain within the Democratic Party to pull that organization away from the culture of death and back to its historical position as a representative of traditional working-class values. That would be an honorable mission indeed for Christians of all denominations, if perhaps a nearly impossible one, at least in the present time. In the meantime, we Catholics across the political spectrum need to acknowledge and respect the viewpoints of our fellow parishioners as we try to fulfill our mission in the best way we see to succeed.
The overarching mission of Catholics everywhere is salvation and everlasting life, not the next election or the one after that. This doesn’t mean we can’t be engaged in politics — we certainly must be — but it does mean we have to put that in context of our true mission of salvation. The Pope is joining Twitter to pursue that mission in the world as we find it, as we are all called to do. There will be those who refuse to listen and/or cast aspersions, but there will be those who listen, too. I for one am glad to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Twitter, and look forward to his engagement with people around the world.