@Pontifex Leaves Twitter Behind

When the Vatican established Pope Benedict XVI’s Twitter account as @Pontifex (rather than @BennyRatz or something more Ratzinger-specific) I thought it was a smart move. Individual popes come and go, but the office remains, and it remains relevant to his millions of followers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. I envisioned a Twitter feed that would pass from pontiff to pontiff until some other networking tool inevitably pushed his tweets off the Internet’s collective radar.

Except now, Vatican spokespersons are intimating that, when the Benedict XVI papacy ends, so will the @pontifex Twitter account he established just over two months ago. Has there ever been such a well-followed, well-known, short-term Twitter experiment?

Benedict XVI has used Twitter to transmit his errant thoughts and reflections, but he’s hardly been groundbreaking or newsmaking there. In roughly three dozen tweets, he hasn’t had much of consequence to say. He’s regurgitated a few bits of trite wisdom about the invisible powers he loves best (“Everything is a gift from God”; “Let us imitate the Virgin Mary”), and made a few remarks about Catholic concerns like baptism, the Year of Faith, and false idols. But he has yet to make a single straightforward reference to his retirement, or what he’s doing with his time now and in the future, and he’s certainly not harnessing the power of the medium to address the vicious rumours he’d really do best to dispel if he can.

Shocking news: a clutch of elderly churchmen, skewing towards heavy-duty conservatism and out-of-date thought patterns, can’t figure out how to make social media work for them.

The truth is, it’s hard to blame the Vatican for concluding that the Twitter experiment has been a bit of a failure. Reaction to even the most uncontroversial statements from Benedict’s Twitter account has often been brutally angry. Everything he says seems to become the basis for an online skirmish between the faithful and the godless, peppered liberally with calls for him to face the charges against him related to his role in child-abuse cover-ups. In spite of the brigade of Twitter users admonishing anti-Pope tweeters to “show some respect,” it’s a hostile environment for anybody, let alone the elderly, sheltered theocrats who end up in the papal chair.

Twitter failed for the Vatican because it’s built upon principles of open access, exchange of information, and unrestricted speech — no reverence required. Catholics, non-Catholics, ex-Catholics, and anti-Catholics don’t need a papal audience to tell Benedict (and his would-be successors) exactly what they think of the church’s standing policies on condom use, AIDS in Africa, celibacy, gay-bashing, or molester priests.

For the first time in history, a Pope has tried on a medium that allows everyone — not just faithful Catholics — to easily express their opinions about the Church, instead of just passively listening to what the Pope has to say.

And, not surprisingly, the Vatican doesn’t much care for what it’s hearing. So it’s deciding to bury its head back in the sand and shut the doors on two-way communication with the faithful, the faithless, and everyone else with a stake in how the Catholic Church’s medieval Magisterium handles twenty-first century challenges.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Show some respect? Fuck that. He doesn’t deserve any respect. Good people deserve respect, and good is the last thing Nazi Rat is.

    • The Other Weirdo

      The one thing I don’t hold against him is the Nazi Youth business. Being compelled to join is not the same thing as joining voluntarily.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        sorry, i can’t agree. Anne Frank was quite young, and resisted. members of the White Rose society died, protesting Nazi rule. they were young too.

        i like to think if i had been a white man 15yo in those times, i would’ve done the right things and said “no, i’m not gonna guard that camp for you.” i have a (unsurprisingly republican) family friend who was “made” to be a nazi when he was 14. he’s an asshole, a liar, and a coward, today.

  • Gus Snarp

    That’s not the way NPR is reporting it. They’re saying the account will remain in existence and it will be up to the next Pope to decide what to do with it.

    • beleester

      This seems to be true. @Pontifex currently says it’s the twitter page for “Sede Vacante,” and has a link to the archive of Benedict’s tweets.

  • Jim Guillory

    “Welcome to the twitter page of His Holiness…”
    When someone refers to himself as His Holiness (with capitals) my first thought is what a pompous ass. I don’t use twitter, but if I did I sure wouldn’t respond with any respect for ‘His Holiness’.

    • C Peterson

      I’ve always taken it as an abbreviation of His Assholiness.

  • C Peterson

    Twitter is perhaps the most shallow and lame thing ever to infect the Internet (okay, overlooking Facebook). It seems so appropriate as a papal communication channel…

    • Baby_Raptor

      Facebook has the occasional legitimate use. I use it to talk to friends, and my guild on WoW uses it to announce plans for things.

      Twitter…It *can* be used in the same way, but it’s not that often. It’s pretty much just a narcissism pit.

    • http://mittenatheist.blogspot.com/ Kari Lynn

      It depends on what you use it for. One of my professors used Twitter and Facebook for open communication for her class. You could follow the Twitter and Facebook pages if you wanted, but once the class was over you were booted out.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      mostly i agree. but it does have one excellent use: up to the minute, live news reports from people who are “there” while whatever is happening is happening.

      FaceBorg is a big waste of time, imho. but i’ve read tweets from people who beat CNN or BBC to the scene, at places where earthquakes or hurricanes are happening. twitter is also good for exposing the assholishness of assholes, like Ill Papa, who so clearly don’t understand today’s reality.

      but to me, and i don’t “follow” or “tweet” at all, myself, i enjoy knowing that sometimes, a local nonprofessional can give me the up to the minute info on stuff while the traditional media wastes its time on stuff i don’t care about in the least.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    pontifex was his third choice. Appearently, oldcrazymisogynistichomophobepedophileenablingdelusionalhypocrite and luvbeiber#1 were taken.

  • flyb

    Ok, off the topic, but still… I’m trying to watch the Price is Right on CBS and instead they have some live bullshit of the Pope’s helicopter flying around. God damn it so much.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      I bid $1 for the popacopter.

  • Aspieguy

    I really wanted to be pope. I have always wanted to wear a white dress with red shoes. The headgear is so cool. I would love to be carried by men while I sat in a chair. I could get used to having my own summer palace, sumptious apartment, and my personal cathedral. I wanted a fish ring and mass adulation.
    Isn’t it strange that the Vicar of Christ lives such an extravagant lifestyle, yet his lord Jesus had no home, wore simple clothes, had sandals, and was never received with adulation from the masses.
    You are correct. The pope is irrelevent and a hypocrite.

  • roberthughmclean

    “Let us imitate the Virgin Mary” said the decomposing pope. Errrr…how? I’d need gender reassignment or something and I’m not keen on unexpected babies popping out when I’m near a stable after no bonking. Could the old mary walk on water? That’d be fun and shorten my commute.

  • Patrick

    Hang on, according to the twitter screengrab His Holeliness is “following” 8?
    Shouldn’t that be 1? Or if you include the trinity, no more than 3?

    • guest

      He’s only following one… The other two are sock-puppets.

  • Rain

    Dear naive people,

    This is what twitter and youtube and google+ and facebook and IMDB and blogs is really all about:

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2992736/posts

    “Rachel Maddow Busted Using Multiple Fake Twitter Accounts To Boost Mentions Of Her Show”

  • http://www.facebook.com/potorch John Perkins

    I wonder if it has anything to do with @thecrimsonfuckr… #obscurehumorisobscure

  • http://www.facebook.com/fcojavier.maringracia Fco Javier Marín Gracia

    He is back! Well, is not the same “he”, but is back.
    https://twitter.com/Pontifex

  • http://www.facebook.com/fcojavier.maringracia Fco Javier Marín Gracia

    He is back! Well, is not the same “he”, but is back.
    https://twitter.com/Pontifex