Media: Pope says retweets spring the soul!

YouTube Preview ImageYou may have read stories about the Vatican announcing that Roman Catholics may earn time off purgatory by following Pope Francis on social media during World Youth Day. Many of the stories had serious problems. The main problem was getting the theology all wrong.

For a sample of how the media messed up this story, let’s look at the Telegraph:

Catholics to seek forgiveness for their sins via social media

Catholics will be able to seek forgiveness for their sins from afar next week when the Pope visits Brazil, simply by following the event on social media, the Vatican has decreed.

You don’t even need to know that much about Catholicism to see where this Rome-based (!) reporter or his headline writer went south. As one reader put it:

Please, please, please, this is not “forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness is granted via absolution in the Sacrament of Confession (or, if you prefer, Penance or Reconciliation).  An indulgence,  whether partial or plenary, is remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.

There’s actually much more wrong with the story. And practically every story I read on the matter just got the basics wrong. It was so bad that CNN’s Belief Blog had the Rev. James Martin, SJ, write-up a blow-by-blow of the various mistakes. It’s great and I encourage you to read it. Father Martin shows knowledge of newsrooms and church teaching in his account. A snippet from ” Sorry, you can’t get out of hell by retweeting the pope“:

In other words: the original document, the “source” and Archbishop Celli all said the opposite of what the headlines said.

That is, it’s not enough simply to follow the pope on Twitter. It’s not even enough to check his Twitter feed frequently. You need to be (a) contrite, (b) trying to follow the events at World Youth Day live and (c) performing these acts with “due devotion.”

In other words, the Vatican is clearly referring to prayerful participation in these events by men and women who could not otherwise go, through the various “new means of social communication.”

The end was a bit rough but deservedly so:

The worst headline came from the normally careful Slate: Pope Francis is not offering indulgences “in exchange for Twitter followers.” He has plenty of Twitter followers. But he’d probably exchange a few hundred of them for headline writers who actually read the story.

OK. The second disappointment in this media coverage is one that I’m almost reticent to suggest. Let’s just assume that we lived in an alternate universe where a Vatican announcement about indulgences was covered significantly better than what we saw this week. If that were the case, what I’d then like to see in that coverage is some airing of the theological debate about indulgences.

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That minister of humor unloads on the pope coverage

The thought for the day and, perhaps, for the next week or two, care of Father James Martin, the chaplain of The Colbert Report and author of the essential “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.”

The problem, as you will see in this Facebook entry, is that — other than a choice poke or two — I don’t think this particular Jesuit is laughing at the moment. Hang on.

The conclave hasn’t even started, and I’m already submerged by a sea of stupid articles, idiotic commentary and boneheaded op-eds about the Catholic Church, by people who have no clue what they’re talking about. I’m not talking about people with whom I disagree, or who challenge me with new ways of thinking about the church, but writers who seem completely clueless about the most basic concepts. Some of this is to be expected: the church is a highly complex institution with 2,000 of history behind it.

But the number of misinformed articles I’ve read about celibacy, the priesthood, the papacy, the church in this country, the causes of the sexual abuse crisis, church authority, papal infallibility, the role of the magisterium, life in a religious order, the vow of chastity, and Benedict XVI, just boggles the mind. Or at least my mind, which perhaps is too easily boggled. Needless to say, I don’t expect commentators to know everything about the church. (I sure don’t.) But I think it’s a reasonable to expect that people should refrain from commenting (especially publicly) on stuff that they clearly don’t know much about.

Wait, there’s more! Trust me on that.

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