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.


Papal soundbytes, part 1 (16 September)

Below is a selection from the official addresses and homilies made by Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit to the United Kingdom last week. They are a strictly personal selection of passages which I think are either important to consider or which reflect the general topic of the various speeches. A full collection is available via the Vatican website. Below are my choices from the first day of the visit, 16 September.

The pope speaks to reporters onboard the plane en route to Scotland

Interview during the flight to the UK

“One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ.”

“The priest, at the moment of ordination, a moment for which he prepared for years, says “yes” to Christ, in order to be his mouth, his hand and to serve with all his being so that the Good Shepherd who loves us, who helps and guides us to truth, may be present in the world. How a man who has said and done this can afterwards fall into such perversions [sexual abuse of minors] is difficult to understand. It is a great sadness, a great sadness also that Church leadership was not sufficiently vigilant and sufficiently swift and decisive in taking the necessary measures.”

“Naturally the fact that, from a juridical point of view, this is a State visit, does not make my visit a political reality, because if the Pope is a head of State, this is just an instrument that guarantees the independence of his message and the public character of his work as Pastor. In this sense the State visit is substantially and essentially a pastoral visit, a visit made in responsibility for the faith, for which the Pope exists.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI greet guests in the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Audience with Queen Elizabeth II and state reception

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).”

Homily at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow

“The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a “dictatorship of relativism” threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.”

“Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility. Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation.”

“Just as the Eucharist makes the Church, so the priesthood is central to the life of the Church.”

“There are many temptations placed before you every day – drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol – which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive. There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God.”

Upon watching the papal Mass in Glasgow

Yellow umbrellas indicate the locations of priests distributing Communion

For the first time I’ve been able to watch a Mass by the pope while on an international visit. While liturgically the Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow left things to be desired, I tend to consider it a fitting highpoint to a very successful first day. From the audience with Queen Elizabeth II to the homily at Mass, Pope Benedict XVI managed to make an impression of an intelligent and loving shepherd. He does not shun the truth but always accompanies it with love. Love to individual people, strangers and close friends, but certainly also to his flock, the Catholics of Scotland and all over the world.

This papal visit looks to be one covered heavily by means of social media. In a previous post I already shared  a link to the 24/7 live coverage, but the Mass could also be followed via Twitter, or so it seemed by the number of tweets devoted to it. The few cynical and spiteful comments that showed up were successfully drowned out by the sheer joy of faith that many others displayed.

It seems to me that many of the haters are just looking in from the outside, never managing to catch a view of the real deal, but only reflections. I doubt many of them bothered to watch the Mass (with or without an open heart), and if you don’t do that, you’ll never see, let alone understand, the very heart of the Catholic faith. So how can you then pretend to pass judgement on it or its faithful?

The pope is driven through the streets of Glasgow, waving at and blessing many thousands of people along the route. In Edinburgh, the police estimated some 125,000 viewers, contrasting with some 60 protesters. Perspective, right?

Papal Visit to England and Scotland, day one

One of the most important, and certainly most anticipated, international trips by Pope Benedict XVI kicks off today. His state visit to England and Scotland could be marred by protests and antagonism fueled by ignorance, but I personally expect that to be trumped by the words the pope will speak and the witness of the many faithful who will flock to catch a glimpse of him.

What is there to look forward to on this first day?

The Royal Company of Archers marches onto the grounds of Holyroodhouse. They will be part of the welcoming ceremony for the pope.

First there is the welcoming ceremony and the courtesy visit (as it is officially styled) to Queen Elizabeth II at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. At 11:40 (British time) the pope will make his first address during a meeting with state authorities on the grounds of the palace. After lunch, the papal caravan will travel to Glasgow for a Mass at Bellahouston Park, and undoubtedly the pope’s homily there will also deserve much attention. Tonight at 8, the pope will leave Scotland for London.

During his visit, the pope will stay at the Apostolic Nunciature in Wimbledon, London.

What the topics will be during his address and homily is still under wraps, but I think we can expect them to be primarily aimed at the Catholics of Scotland, but also to the people of the UK and to Her Majesty the Queen, of course. This morning’s address will most likely be an introductory talk, and I think Pope Benedict will discuss specific topics during his homily.

It is generally expected that there will also be unscheduled events, one of the most important of which is a meeting between the pope and victims of sexual abuse. He has done that in the United States, Australia and Malta as well, and it is usually not announced and not open to the press because of the private nature of these meetings. The men who met with the pope in Malta were glad with the meeting, so let’s hope the same will be true today.

The relationship between the Church and the Anglican Communion will no doubt also come up, but not today, I expect.

Whatever today will bring, it will be important and interesting, not just for Catholics in the United Kingdom, but for everyone who, for one reason or another, has an interest in the words and actions of the Holy Father.

Follow all the events of the visit via the official live stream.

The papal visit to the UK, its itinerary and importance

The organisation of the papal visit to the United Kingdom, from 16 to 19 September, have published the itinerary of the four day state visit of Pope Benedict XVI. This visit, I expect, will be a very important one, not just for the UK and the Church, but for all of Europe and the world. Although not as heavily secularised as certain other countries, the UK has a history of ambivalence (to put it mildly) towards the Catholic Church. It is not without reason that this is the first official state visit of a pope since the Reformation. Pope John Paul II did visit in 1982, but that was very much a pastoral visit to the faithful, without the bells and whistles (and consequences) of a state visit.

There are a number of highlights to look forward to. On Thursday the 16th there are the welcome and audience in Edinburgh with Queen Elizabeth II, followed by a reception and addresses by both Her Majesty and the Holy Father. The fact that the Queen is head of the Anglican church adds extra weight to this. The ‘other head’ of the Anglican church, Archbishop Rowan Williams, will receive the pope the next day in his residence of Lambeth Palace in London, which will be followed by the pope’s address in Westminster Hall, the very place where St. Thomas More and others were condemned to death. The fact that the pope will now be speaking in that very place is historically quite significant.

Saturday’s high point will undoubtedly be Mass at Westminster Cathedral, and the Sunday will be all about soon-to-be-Blessed John Henry Newman. The pope will beatify him in the morning, and the afternoon will be spent with the bishop of England, Wales and Scotland.

Like his previous visits to Africa, Malta, Cyprus and Portugal, the eyes of the world will be on Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father not being one to shun difficult topics, I would not be surprised if the ongoing secularisation, the current abuse crisis and the escalating anti-life attitude in the world are among the topics raised by him and others. No doubt there will be angry, misguided and emotional headlines following some of his words, but hopefully there will be more intelligent and thoughtful comments. If our modern western society has a hope of growth and development, it must show to be able to transcend the childish emotional response to difficult and painful questions. That is why a visit like this, to a western European country is so important for more than just the host country. It is from the west, after all, that the social diseases have too often come, and it is there that a change must be effected. Those changes must not be limited to the relationship between Church and state, but must also include relations with other faiths, relations in the Church herself, and relations with people of all layers of society.

UK bishops publish booklet on papal visit – recommended

The logo of the papal visit to the UK, featuring a quotation from Cardinal Newman: "Heart speaks unto heart".

The bishops’ conference of England and Wales and Scotland have published a rather terrific booklet with information on the upcoming papal visit to the UK. It provides answers to questions about what the pope will be doing, what the nature of his visit is and why it is significant that he will be welcomed by the Queen in Edinburgh. But it also goes beyond that, explaining about Catholic social teachings (highlighting the writings of Pope Benedict XVI on that subject), about ecumenism (even why there are different Christian denominations), the Catholic understanding of herself, the role of the Vatican in the world and in Britain, the beatification of Cardinal Newman, the ongoing abuse crisis and comparable wide-ranging topics.

Because if the wide range of topics it covers, I would say that this booklet is not just useful to the Catholics in the United Kingdom, but for Catholics (and non-Catholics) in any western, secularised country. The natural questions that arise in people are generally covered here, and they are very basic questions: why is there a Church, why is there a pope, why the seeming discrepancy between faith and society?

Signed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Keith Cardinal O’Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, the booklet is available online via the Archdiocese of Westminster.

The bishops of England and Wales meet with the pope

The bishops of England and Wales have been in Rome this past week for their ad limina visit, and on Monday they met with the pope who spoke to them about various issues. The full text of the address is here, but I would like to emphasise a few elements below. 

The bishops of England and Wales with the Holy Father. Photo courtesy of L'Osservatore Romano.


“I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?” 

The pope refuses to allow the Church to fall back on herself, safe in her own little world. There is a duty to make knows the truth in the Church to those outside it. The part I bolded is an indication of how sharp the pope can be if he wants to get his point across..  

“In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.” 

Disagreement for the sake of disagreement has no place in  a debate, although too often it is heralded as that much-lauded and often misunderstood freedom of speech. Yes, we have a right to voice our opinion, but that does not free us from the obligation to think it through or deal with any consequences of what we say. 

“Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.” 

That is such an enormous risk in a society which has virtually no sense of sacrality left. We don’t recognise it when we see it, assuming we even see it at all. When a priest is seen as merely a functionary, we ultimately diminish the very essence of all of God’s gifts to us, because we don’t accept them for what they are. 

“I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church.” 

As for that last point, Anglicanorum Coetibus is having an effect on the papal visit to the UK in September. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth II is miffed about the pope’s initiative to open the doors to Anglicans who want to return home to the Catholic Church. After all, the queen is the head of the Anglican church, so she is not amused that the Holy Father has made it easier for members of her flock to leave and swim the Tiber. 

She cancelled the planned dinner with the pope, which to me seems a bit childish. The Queen’s government officially invited the pope, which means essentially that the Kingdom did, and now the personification of that Kingdom seems to back pedal a bit. 

Well, whatever happens, the papal visit to the UK looks to be stormy. There is a lot of enthusiasm, but the opponents are, once more, very loud.