On Twitter: out with the fake, in with the real?

Yesterday we learned that the long-promised official papal Twitter account – that is, an account used, or at least sanctioned by the pope – will become reality before the year is out. Pope Benedict XVI sent out a first tweet last year when he launched News.va, but he used the Vatican news account @news_va_en instead of a personal one. That is said to change within the coming two months, as a personal account will be created for the Holy Father, who will not be tweeting himself, though. But, we are told, he will approve every tweet being sent.

But what about the fake popes on Twitter? There are a fair number of those, using the name of Pope Benedict or some variation thereon. Some are sarcastic, humorous or vindictive, but more than one also offer serious Catholic news and opinion.

The Holy See has obviously also noticed all these and has said that it hopes that the launch of the official papal account will cause all the fake popes to “give up when they see the official site is up”, an unnamed official said, as CNS reports. There’s a problem there.

While Twitter has, as part of its policy, the option to block accounts that impersonate others, it also allows for harmless satire. An example is @Queen_UK, a satirical impersonation of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II. So similar accounts about or obviously pretending to be a humourous alter ego of the Holy Father would be safe.

Then there are the accounts using the pope’s name which offer serious news and opinion. Instead of cancelling these, I think a better solution would be to allow them to continue to offer their useful contributions, but perhaps under another name. Changing a username on Twitter is a fairly simple procedure and allows one to keep one’s followers.

Another important issue to consider is the content of the papal tweets. If the Vatican wants others to change something about other users on Twitter, it has to offer something similar. As it seems now, Pope Benedict will not be an avid Twitter user himself (and who can blame him, really?), but the few tweets we may expect on short notice will relate to what he says in audiences and other official functions. No personal tweets about what was served at the papal table or what the weather was like at Castel Gandolfo, then. Will the pope’s presence on Twitter make a huge impact as far as the content of tweets is concerned? Likely not, although the catechesis that Pope Benedict regularly offers at his Wednesday audiences certainly deserves a wider audience, for example. But it will not replace the contributions of others, who now tweet under the pope’s name. And that is again a reason to not ban these accounts, but at most ask them to change their name, so to avoid confusion.

Vatican website in the makeover

Part of the new homepage of vatican.va

One of the oldest virtually unchanged websites out there is finally getting a makeover, and although it’s happening step by step in conjunction with the release of a new news site, the changes on the Vatican website do look promising.

The changes have been expected since about a year ago, and when the forthcoming release of news.va, a comprehensive and official news site of the Holy See, was announced at the recent Vatican blogmeet, it was expected to be arriving any day now. But, as the old adage goes, the Church thinks in centuries, so new developments often take a bit longer than needed. But the changes are becoming visible now.

I like the new layout of the homepage. The main focus is the Holy Father and his various publications; as a blogger, I frequently make use of those, so their prominent accessibility is a definite plus. The pages about the various Curial departments and news outlets are also easily found, as is a link to the aforementioned news.va at the top right. The focus column at the left, then, features information on several high-profile topics: the pope’s pastoral visits and, at this time, information about the abuse crisis.

As far as I have found, no other pages have been released in a new layout, but I expect that is only a matter of time. Improved accessibility is already a good development.

Fifth bishop of Rotterdam to be announced at noon tomorrow

Via Twitter (the social media network once again proving its value as a news disseminator) I am reading announcements that the Vatican Congregation for Bishops will announce the name of the new bishop of Rotterdam tomorrow at noon. The as yet unknown person will succeed Msgr. Ad van Luyn, S.D.B., currently serving as Apostolic Administrator of Rotterdam, as the fifth bishop of the southwestern Dutch diocese.

Sadly, I’ll be working at the time the announcement is made, but I expect to be able to draft a serviceable blog post about the appointment in the evening. The upcoming appointment will be the first one of a new diocesan ordinary since Bishop Gerard de Korte was appointed to Groningen-Leeuwarden in 2008.

Since the retirement of Bishop van Luyn in January, very few names of possible successors have been thrown about, although there are a fair number of possibilities. Of the current ordinaries, Bishop Hans van den Hende of Breda has been mentioned to move one diocese over; an option which I consider unlikely. Msgr. van den Hende has been in Breda for less than five years (including one year as Coadjutor Bishop), and still has enough work to do there.

Another name is that of the auxiliary bishop of Roermond, Msgr. Everard de Jong. A rumoured close runner for Groninger-Leeuwarden in 2008, he is conceivable ready for his own diocese after more than 12 years as auxiliary. Of the other Dutch auxiliaries, none seem to be likely choices: Msgr. van Burgsteden of Haarlem-Amsterdam is beyond the age of retirement himself. The two auxiliaries each of Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch have only recently been appointed; moving them now will most likely be too destabilising for the diocesan curia they leave behind, let alone themselves (but it will not be entirely unprecedented).

Of course, the new bishop may come from the clergy of the Diocese of Rotterdam itself. The first one to come into my mind, as mentioned here before, is Fr. Jan Hendriks, currently the rector of the Tiltenberg seminary, which belongs to the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, although Fr. Hendriks is a priest of Rotterdam. Another name is that of Fr. Ad van der Helm, the dean of The Hague and professor in canon law at Louvain and Bovendonk. If appointed, he would be the first true twittering bishop of the Netherlands. Rotterdam’s vicar general, Father Dick Verbakel, is an option as well, but a remote one, I think.

But in the end, Rome may still surprise us. Will there be a third Bishop Adrianus* in Rotterdam, or not? Wait and see.

Fr. Ad van der Helm (right), pictured here with Msgr. van Luyn (left) and the Nuncio, Abp. Bacqué, may be the new bishop

*The first was Bishop Adrianus Simonis, later archbishop of Utrecht and cardinal; the second Bishop Adrianus van Luyn.

Photo credit: Peter van Mulken

The Vatican Blogmeet: impressions from the outside

Yesterday’s Vatican blogmeet – the second major event (from a blogger’s point of view) in as many days – seems to have been a success. I was unable to follow the live feed provided by SQPN’s Fr. Roderick, but my Twitter timeline was swamped with tweets hashtagged #vbm11 (for Vatican Blogmeet 2011).

From that flood of information (evidence, with the coverage of Sunday’s beatification and the death of Osama bin Laden that Twitter is a serious contender for providing rapid news as it happens) I gather that there have been several important elements to the whole bloggers’ meeting.

One of them is the very welcome positive attitude from Church officials towards the blogging community. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican press chief, spoke about the importance of service over ego when blogging, but also indicated that the Vatican is listening. He himself spends some time every morning readings several blogs, to prepare for what the day may bring. He also expressed gratefulness to Catholic bloggers who sprung into action when the regular media distorts Church developments. An example is the hubbub around Pope Benedict’s perceived permittance of the use of condoms. Before the Vatican could come with clarifications, Catholic bloggers made sure to correct the media reports and explain what the Holy Father had really said.

Related to that, Thomas Peters (the American Papist) asked why blogs could not be included among the Vatican’s accredited media, so that certain selected bloggers could receive advance copies of important documents and publications, just like newspapers and other media do now. A very valid question, I would think.

The Vatican itself also seems to be moving forward in social media. An advance view of a new news site (www. news.va) triggered much positive comments. I don’t know when that is supposed to be up and running, but a new Vatican news website would be very welcome.

The results of this first blogmeet (I say ‘first’, because I get the impression that several participants would like to see this become an annual event) will become more clear over the course of the coming weeks and months. It will be interesting to see the developments on both sides; will the sense of community in the blogosphere increase in a spirit of service, and will the Vatican, through the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Social Communications make more and more effective use of this enormous resource? And how will the latter take shape? The measure of involvement of local bishops’ conferences and Church communities is still up in the air.

Fr. Roderick Vonhögen participated in the first panel and spoke of how he, as a simple parish priest from the Netherlands, reaches an audience of thousands through social media.
Rocco Palmo moderated the first panel
Father Federico Lombardi spoke about the attitudes of Catholic bloggers during the second panel: service should prevail over ego.

Photo credits: intermirifica.net

Appeal for the Cistercian sisters of Marienthal

The flooding in central Europe, which has already cost the lives of 15 people, has also hit the convent of Marienthal in Germany. The sisters who live there have retreated to the higher parts of their buildings, it is said. The Diocese of Dresden-Meißen, under which the convent falls, has appealed for donations. A spokesman has said that these are the worst floods since the convent’s founding in 1234.  In the church, the water has reached a height of two meters. The damage is estimated to amount to several million Euros. Some 100 people depend on the convent for their work and income, and that does not include the sisters living there. It goes without saying that they are dependent on their home.

Kayaking across the convent grounds

Marienthal saw a massive restoration in the early 90s, following the German reunification, all done by volunteers. Now the convent welcomes some 100,000 visitors per year.

For donations for the relief and inevitable restoration of the centuries-old convent complex, the diocese has created a bank account number:

Volksbank Raiffeisenbank Niederschlesien eG
Bank code: 855 91 000
Account number: 457 304 8003
Password: Hilfe für Marienthal

For an impression of the convent in better days, visit their website.