A Ticket to Heaven on Twitter: Pope Francis Offers Social Media Indulgences

These aren’t your great-grandma’s indulgences.

In the brave new world of social media, certain spokesmen from the Vatican have made a bold announcement: your participation in certain Catholic social media events can actually get time deducted from your stay in purgatory.

The terminology may not be familiar to those not steeped in Catholicism, so let’s take a moment for a quick refresher in Catholic theology: God will only allow the perfectly sinless to enter heaven. For most people, while their sins aren’t quite bad enough to earn them damnation, perfection is out of reach. So purgatory is a temporary punishment to purify them until they’re heaven-worthy. Purgatory can also be a place where people pay for sins that have been forgiven but still require some sort of time served.

The time one serves in purgatory is variable; you can shave time off your stay by performing acts of piety in life, or having others perform them in your name once you’re dead. This is why Catholics pray and offer masses for their faithful departed. Historically it’s been best known outside of the Church as a money-making scam: you have to pay for the priests to say the masses that will earn your loved ones a shorter purgatorial stay, so only the poor are stuck serving their full sentence. Indulgences are famous for having partially inspired the Protestant Reformation.

In modern Catholicism, however, indulgences are typically granted for activities that demonstrate extra faith: certain prayers and pilgrimages, for instance, will get all or part of your currently accrued sin wiped off your slate (assuming, of course, that you confess to a priest and show proper contrition). In September of 2012, Pope Benedict announced a fresh slate of indulgence-worthy acts for the upcoming Year of Faith (2012-2013), where he mentioned the possibility of gaining indulgences by reciting specific prayers “at a moment when the words of the Supreme Pontiff or of the Diocesan Bishops are broadcast via the television or radio” — a bit like a video game player inputting the proper cheat codes at the correct moment of game play.

And if you can do it with television or radio, why not with Twitter or Instagram?

Next week marks the beginning of World Youth Day celebrations in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Attendance at this celebration wipes the slate clean for all the Catholics who show up to see the Pope in person. But the Vatican, citing their mindfulness of the financial burden that could be involved in getting to Brazil, has decided to extend those indulgences to anyone who follows the Pope’s visit online, like on Twitter, in addition to the more traditional radio and televised media.

Mongsignor Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, wants to clear up the media misconception that simply following @Pontifex on Twitter is enough to get you out of purgatory:

You don’t obtain an indulgence like you get a coffee from a vending machine. It’s not enough to just watch a Mass online or follow Pope Francis via live streaming on your iPad or by connecting to Pope2You.net. These are just devices. What really counts is that the Tweet that the Pope will send from Brazil or the photos from World Youth Day produce genuine spiritual fruit in the heart of the person.

Of course, “genuine spiritual fruit” is hard to measure, so you may just have to input the proper prayers at the correct time and hope your spiritual fruit is growing right.

(Image via nakedpastor)

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.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m out of words for them. It’s just like this cauldron of evil 6 year olds making shit up as they go along except that they have a billion people actually believing their bullshit. Come on Catholics…emancipate yourselves from this nonsense already.

  • Tainda

    I don’t like spiritual fruit. I think it’s the texture.

    I’m more of a raspberry girl.

    • allein

      I feel the same way about tomatoes.

  • Gerry

    The whole idea of this is so corrupt it makes me ill. Beyond that I’m speechless.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Back in the good old days, when the Church actually wielded real power, they were selling indulgences for actual coin, ’cause God the Omnipotent and the Omniscient would let you out of Purgatory early if you paid him off like a Mafioso Don. These days, when it’s not the amount of money you hoard(they’ve already got more than God Himself), it’s the number of Twitter followers that you have, that sort of thing is gauche, so they instead sell Twitter coupons. In other words, the Roman Catholic Church has sunk so low as to prostitute itself for a twitter feed stature.

    • CultOfReason

      “He (God) loves you, and he needs money. He always needs money. He’s all powerful, all knowing, all perfect, all wise, yet, somehow, he just can’t handle money. Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little bit more…” – George Carlin

      • The Other Weirdo

        We should all remember Doctor McCoy: “What does God need with a starship?”

    • Tom

      Not if they’re playing the long game – the loss of followers is a far greater threat to them now than it was before stuff like the enlightenment, humanism and the scientific method came along. Focus more on keeping and acquiring followers and less on squeezing cash out of them now, so you have more people to squeeze for cash later.

    • baal

      They know they are losing the younger folks so why not apply the old scheme to the new hip young fashion of social media? I’m half guessing they’ll set up a ‘on-line pilgrimage’ where yo uhave to do htings like get 10 FB friends to ‘like’ the vatacin homepage.

    • JET

      I paid many a quarter out of my allowance to light a candle to shorten my grandmother’s stay in purgatory. When I think of all those Snickers bars I could have bought instead…

      • The Other Weirdo

        Well, it was money better spent on lighting candles. Otherwise you might have gotten diabetes at an early age.

        • wombat

          Shush you, with your logic! SNICKERS I SAY!

    • phranckeaufile

      God the Omnipotent and the Omniscient would let you out of Purgatory early if you paid him off like a Mafioso Don.

      “Nice little soul you’ve got there. Shame if anything happened to it.”

  • Olive Markus

    This reminds me of my Pre-Confirmation retreat.

    Confession, to me, was always a very big deal. To be vulnerable and give intimate details of your thoughts and life to a grown man (whom I may or may not know, depending) gave me the closest thing to panic attacks I’d ever had at that stage in my life. And I was a GREAT kid, in all ways. Seriously, my parents hit the lottery with me. Confession felt like a tremendous violation to me, and I still see it this way.

    Anyway, during this retreat, we all had to confess. This is a big one – the last one before Confirmation. So what did the priest do after my emotionally and physically draining confession? He told me to clean the toilets of the retreat center.

    When we all got out, we realized that all of us were simply given housekeeping duties to clean up the center before we left. This is what would wipe our sins off the map for the moment – to go clean their center.

    How mighty convenient for them.

    I would have been infinitely less angry if cleaning was simply scheduled as part of our stay there. I wasn’t a brat and cleaning was not beneath me. However, trying to manipulate us into believing that God actually wanted us to do chores that they refused to pay someone for because of our “sins”… He was literally going down a checklist of chores to assign without even listening to a word we really said to him.

    • Art_Vandelay

      Yeah, I was like you…I really never did anything wrong when I was a kid. I don’t think my parents had to yell at me until I was like 12. I was petrified of disappointing them and hell didn’t sound like a good time either. So I remember being forced to go to confession and not being able to come up with anything to confess but I knew they’d never believe me because they’d been ramming it in my head my whole life that I’m a filthy sinner in need of the Lord’s grace. So I went in there and I made up that I stole a pack of gum from a convenience store (my friend did this). Then it occurred afterwards that I had just lied to a priest and I actually had something to confess. I don’t think I slept for two days.

      • Christopher Borum

        Catholic Catch-22!

        • Art_Vandelay

          Total Catch-22, because you can’t just tell a priest that you’ve lived a sinless life…that would be blasphemy and now you’ve sinned. For 9 years though, I was like Jesus except without all the self-righteousness and then, bam! Lied to a fucking priest. I can’t overstate how traumatic this was at the time.

          Man, how I loathe them.

      • Katarn

        Fuck, I remember being in that same situation so many times. Basically being coerced into admitting sins the priest just figured I must have committed. “There must be times when you take longer than necessary to respond to your parents” “i guess, is that really a sin that needs confessing?”

        Make you feel like shit for basically nothing. You can’t go in and say, “look I know i’m not perfect but I am essentially nice to everyone, k bye”

      • Olive Markus

        I did actually steal a Swedish Fish from a bulk bin once. I confessed :D.

        Overall, though, everything I confessed was trivial, and I knew it. Even as a kid. Compared to the shit I saw going on daily, even WITHIN the Church, my annoyance at my mother just seemed stupid.

      • MD

        Every Catholic kid lies at their first Confession.

    • JET

      I had to resort to contriving sins, like disobeying my mother by finishing a chapter of a book before turning out the light.

      • allein

        If your worst sin is hiding under the covers with a book and a flashlight…

        I actually babysat for an 11-year-old who would ask permission to forgo his TV time before bed to get an extra half hour to read. I loved that kid. (Then I later worked in a bookstore with his sister, who was 6 when I babysat for them, and in high school when she worked at the store, and I felt really old when I realized who she was.)

      • Olive Markus

        I had VERY similar “sins.” :D

      • Michael W Busch

        I confessed to complicity in climate change and environmental destruction. Not sure what the priest made of that.

    • Anna

      Confession felt like a tremendous violation to me, and I still see it this way.

      It seems that way to me, too. Not just the forced confession of trivial things like teasing a sibling, but as children enter puberty, they’re also supposed to confess extremely personal details. It’s no wonder many children didn’t question when their confessors ordered them to perform sexual acts, as they were already primed to believe that sexual matters were the business of a priest.

      That’s what started my boyfriend down the road to atheism, by the way. Nothing sexual, thank goodness, but the first chink in the Catholic school indoctrination came when his fourth grade class did their First Confession. He didn’t think it was any of the priest’s business what he had done wrong, and he resented being forced to participate.

      • Olive Markus

        The experience I wrote about was a strong push toward atheism for me, too. A lot of the things about the Church made no sense, but this blatant manipulation and complete disregard for what I actually confessed left no doubt in my mind that there was nothing “sacred” or “divine” about this act or the acts of repentance I was ordered to carry out. This was actually a very defining moment in my religious life, even though it seems trivial and silly.

        And the sexual stuff?? Grotesque. I never went down that road, at all, as every cell in my body knew that telling grown men anything sexual was off limits.

  • allein

    So…I’m confused how this works. Does a priest or someone keep track of who does the things that earn indulgences? or is it just that God knows if I follow the right tweets and I don’t have to report my activities to anyone (other than going to confession, I guess)? does he track my IP address? or does God have a celestial accounting staff to keep on top of things? (In light of the George Carlin bit quoted above, he probably needs a celestial accounting staff…) How much time does following a Twitter account and producing “spiritual fruit*” get me, anyway?

    Not that it matters, since I’m not, nor have I ever been, Catholic. I don’t do Twitter, either. I barely do Facebook and I don’t follow any famous people.

    (*What kind of fruit is it, anyway? Is it blueberries? One of my coworkers had a big bag of fresh blueberries this morning and now I really want some. So I hope it’s blueberries.)

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      I’m pretty sure it’s bananas.

      • allein

        eh, I have to be in the right mood for bananas…

      • Cyanmoon1

        Might be ugli fruit

      • Tainda

        I see what you did there

        That shit is bananas B-A-N-A-N-A-S

    • The Other Weirdo

      (*What kind of fruit is it, anyway? Is it blueberries? One of my
      coworkers had a big bag of fresh blueberries this morning and now I
      really want some. So I hope it’s blueberries.)

      That’s pretty much how the entirety of the world’s religions works, too. “Oh my God I really hope there is a God. God, please forgive me sins because I’m too weak to ask for forgiveness from the people I’ve wronged. Praise Jesus. I believe in you so I hope you are real.”

      • Epinephrine

        That’s almost a quote out of the Digital Cuttlefish’s latest poem on the utility of prayer.
        “If you’ve done someone wrong, and need some forgiving,

        Not god, but that person, is whom you should ask

        It’s harder to ask of a person who’s living

        But you’re in the wrong, and so that is your task”

        • Deus Otiosus

          “Utility of Prayer”

          I think he missed a letter. Shouldn’t that start with an “F”?

        • closetatheist

          thanks for sharing that, really. sometimes I still get the urge to pray and it confuses me…I don’t know why it never dawned on me to simply tell the people in my life “hey! you make my life freaking awesome, thanks!” instead of telling an empty room when I’m happy. duh.

    • Art_Vandelay

      So I hope it’s blueberries.

      As long as it’s not an apple. Shit tends to get all fucked up when God brings apples into the equation.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    WooHoo, I’m Skipping Purgatory! – http://bit.ly/15GWGLg

  • Anna

    Wow. I’m left wondering how anyone could take this seriously when it’s all so obviously made up!

  • islandbrewer

    No, no, no. They shouldn’t treat this as a social media game.

    It’s more of an MMO, where the catholics have to grind for reputation, and leveling just prior to the level cap takes forever.

    • Tainda

      It’s a double experience weekend!

  • skinnercitycyclist

    Does this work as a drinking game? And can you do it during communion?

  • JET

    One of the complaints about the RCC is that they act as though we’re still in the 12th century, so I suppose this is progress.

  • Sven2547

    It’s as if they’ve become a parody of themselves.

  • http://an-expatriate-in-cambridge.blogspot.com The Expatriate

    Does anyone still take Catholicism seriously?

    • Ateu, e dai?

      Unfortunately, lots of people here in Brazil do…

  • JET

    Next up… a picture of the Pope on FB. “Like” to reduce your sentence, “share” to get paroled.

  • Ryan Hite

    Really Catholic Church? I understand that you are trying to reach out to the younger crowd but your priests molested some of them and preached gay hate to the rest of them. Sorry, but our generation is not coming back.

    • Laura D

      You’d be surprised. I’m 28 and a friend recently converted to Catholicism. Went to all the classes and everything. I mean, she slept with her boyfriend before they got married, uses birth control, lied to the priest about living in sin AND the birth control, and supports marriage equality, but she’s TOTALLY Catholic. She took the classes and said the words.

      • Ryan Hite

        I think she may not understand it fully… Or they pulled Off a milk before meat scenario…

      • Anna

        It seems like a lot of people are willing to do a conversion and/or take classes and lie to the priests so they can get that wedding they’ve always dreamed about, have their child baptized, etc. I have cousins who went that route.

      • UWIR

        Reading between the lines, I get the impression that her then-boyfriend was Catholic, and she “converted” to Catholicism because her boyfriend wanted a Catholic wedding.

  • Sylvia Suttor

    what kind of fruit is a spiritual fruit? Is it an apple? Please God, let it be an apple… I’m writing this on my MAC so that should already count for something…

  • Pseudonym

    I’ve got a hammer and some nails. Anyone know the way to Wittenburg?