Pope Francis‘ pronouncement yesteday on Twitter might come as a bit of surprise:
My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 2, 2013
Benedict XVI made similar gestures during his reign, which predated the now-routine practice of official papal tweeting, but this message seems different in tone. I note a distinct absence of appeals to the supernatural; Francis does not claim that unemployment jeopardizes man’s capacity to walk with God, avoid sin, etc. He likely would have expanded on these points in a forum that allowed for elaboration, yes, but the name of the game on Twitter is concision, and careful thought went into the tweet’s precise composition.
You can imagine the average Twitter user — say, a twenty-something “spiritual but not religious” prototype with vaguely cynical feelings about the Catholic Church — glancing at this tweet and thinking, “Hmm, that’s kind of a surprising thing to hear from the pope.” Subsequently, you can imagine this person’s view of the pope improving at the margin. (I know mine did, notwithstanding whatever other objections I have to Catholicism.) Obviously a person who lacks sympathy for the unemployed would not respond favorably, but the average Twitter user is not a coldhearted industrialist.
Which is all a long way of saying — if their goal is to “soften” the pope’s image, Francis and his presumptive social media helpers appear to be doing an effective job.