Take the Pope, a social media juggernaut, and millions of people with the ability to interact without filters, and what do you get? The debut of the @Pontifex account on Twitter was aptly (if not intentionally) timed for 12-12-12, and it took nearly no time for Pope Benedict XVI’s personal account to garner close to a million followers – and at least a few detractors.
It isn’t surprising that at least a few would take the opportunity to attempt to communicate directly with the Pope about the Catholic Church covering up the scandal of child molestation by priests. It remains to be seen if the Pontiff’s personal Twitter account will be used to answer such questions, if they receive answers in any form from the Vatican.
Of course there was also the profane. I do not believe in a deity, and while I was raised Catholic, I excommunicated myself from the church over a decade ago. However, even at the lowest points, I can truthfully say I never considered spewing profanity at any religious leaders within the Catholic Church – let alone the Pope. Believe, disbelieve – agree, or disagree, it doesn’t matter. This nonsense is a symptom of the fact that people are not raised to respect themselves or each other anymore.
On the other side of the child molestation issue are the victims. These tweets will unfortunately be too common – perhaps some will be fabricated, although it is hard to wrap one’s mind around the concept of anyone doing such a thing. However, the bottom line remains that if the Pope will actually end up reading the tweets sent to his personal account, these should be some of the most difficult for him to read. Again, it remains to be seen if this account will be used for any sort of personal interaction – no matter what, it probably is not wise to even suggest that these tweets receive responses publicly, no matter how much it might make the faithful feel better about the past (and present.)
As an atheist, and former member of the Catholic Church, I am ambivalent about this step into the 21st century for the Vatican. I would prefer to see modernization in other areas first, such as an abandonment of stringent restrictions against disease preventing condoms in the regions where they can do the most good, by not only preventing disease, but also reducing the number of children born into poverty. I’ve said many times to people of many faiths, that if their deity is omnipotent, and omniscient, there is no way humans could come up with something that their deity did not intend in the first place – good or evil. Well, we’ll have to see if this little foray into the world of social media has any affect on the Vatican going forward. Maybe direct exposure to the antipathy that is often expressed about religion in general, and Catholicism will break the Pope from his echo chamber in Rome. Maybe this will be a real chance for him to see the views of the people, unfiltered. Or more likely, this will just be an account managed by one underling or another in Vatican City. We shall see.