I am curious.
In 2002 a story that broke about the widespread sexual abuse of children and young adults by Catholic priests in the Boston area. Most of the victims were boys and young men. Since that time many, many more stories have surfaced. The Church has paid out millions upon millions of parishioners’ dollars to victims. Church attendance numbers continue their precipitous decline. Bishops do very little, and frequently appear tone-deaf. The laity continues to cry out for more to be done, for actual repentance, for actual consequences, for any kind of actual acknowledgement of guilt and visibly genuine contrition on the part of the hierarchy.
Years of stories, years of tone-deafness, years of little action. Years of wondering: “What is the Pope going to do? How serious does he really take this? When is he going to say something?” And really everyone is getting Catholic sex abuse fatigue.
We also now know that in early June at the Honduran bishops’ conference, a letter, written by 48 (out of 180) brave seminarians, was circulated accusing widespread sexual abuse. After the letter was read aloud at the assembly, Cardinal Maradiaga immediately started attacking the letter’s authors. So far nothing of substance has been done.
What does Pope Francis think about all this? One way he is actively signaling his thoughts to the world Church is through his Twitter accounts. Nearly every day he tweets to the world. I assume these tweets represent his deepest concerns, his most important encouragements, and succinct insights of wisdom from Christ’s own Vicar on earth to the faithful and the world. Why else would a Pope tweet?
So I thought I’d take a look.
Here is a little over a month’s worth of recent tweets from Pope Francis, with a couple of newsworthy events thrown in for context:
June 18: “Let us try to express the joy of God’s Kingdom in every way possible!”
June 19: “Choosing to follow Christ helps build a more just, more friendly, more humane society, that is closer to the heart of God.”
June 20: It was announced that Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick was removed from public ministry by The Holy See after “credible and substantiated” evidence was discovered that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy when he was priest in New York. Then almost daily more information spills forth out about how widespread the abuse was with many young men and seminary students, and how it was an “open secret” among many in the Church hierarchy. This information had likely been internally known for some time by the Holy See, as was the scheduled date of the news release.
And then on the same day…
June 20: “We encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected, or refugees. Do not let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbour in need.”
June 20: “A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.”
June 20: “Dear young people, help us adults whose hearts are often hardened. Help us to choose the path of dialogue and harmony.”
Interesting tweet considering the day.
June 21: “Praying together, walking together, working together: this is the way that leads to Christian unity.”
June 22: “Love for others needs to become the constant factor of our lives.”
June 23: “Let us ask our Lord to help us understand that love is service, love means taking care of others.”
June 24: “Like St John the Baptist, Christians have to humble themselves so that the Lord can grow in their hearts.”
June 25: “Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from sin, sadness, emptiness, isolation. It is the source of a joy that no one can ever take away.”
June 26: “Torture is a mortal sin! Christian communities must commit themselves to helping victims of torture.”
June 27: “We are called to assist the elderly, the sick and the unborn: life must always be protected and loved, from conception to its natural conclusion.”
June 28: “Let us pray for the new Cardinals: may they assist me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome, for the good of all God’s people.”
June 29: “Every kind of material or spiritual poverty, every form of discrimination against our brothers and sisters, comes from turning our backs on God and His love.”
June 30: “When we are firmly united to the God who loves and sustains us, we are able to withstand all life’s difficulties and challenges.”
July 1: “I ask all of you to join me in prayer as I travel to Bari on Saturday on a pilgrimage to pray for peace in the long-suffering Middle East.”
July 3: “We receive God’s graces to share them with others.”
July 5: “Do we know how to silence our hearts and listen to the voice of God?”
July 6: “The suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, is an urgent reminder that we Christians must be more united.”
Note: the Cardinal McCarrick story has become daily news, with article after article being published, more evidence being revealed, more stories of abuse and coverup, and social media being lit up by the Catholic faithful asking for the Church hierarchy to respond in a meaningful way.
July 7: “The God of all consolation, who heals the broken hearts and takes care of the wounds, hear our prayer: Let there be peace in the Middle East!”
July 7: “May all humanity hear the cry of the children of the Middle East. Drying their tears the world will get back it’s dignity.”
July 8: “Every occasion is a good one to spread Christ’s message!”
July 10: “You too are like the Good Samaritan when you recognize the face of Christ in those near you.”
July 11: “Europe rediscovers hope when the human person is at the heart of its institutions. St Benedict, pray for us!”
July 15: “Try reading the Gospel for at least five minutes every day. You will see how it changes your life.”
July 16: “May the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, accompany you on your daily journey towards the Mountain of God.”
July 18: “Jesus invites us to build the civilization of love together in the situations we are called to live every day.”
July 20: Vatican press office issues a press release that pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Pineda Fasquelle, a Honduran auxiliary bishop serving a top advisor to Pope Francis, without giving a reason. The reason, as later revealed, is specifically the sexual abuse of a seminarian, but also apparently McCarrick-like systematic abuse and coverup of many victims. Another “open secret” of sexual abuse and abuse of power by someone close to Pope Francis.
Nothing for two days, then…
July 22: “God wants us to call Him Father, with the trust of children who abandon themselves in the arms of the One who gave them life.”
July 24: “Prayer is never in vain: it always brings forth something new that, sooner or later, bears fruit.”
July 26: “Grandparents are a treasure in the family. Please, take care of your grandparents: love them and let them talk to your children!”
We’ll stop there.
I do not mean to be critical of the Pope. Who am I anyway? But I am curious what to think. I have not made up my mind, but here are two concerns:
- Although the Pope has many things on his plate and on his mind, it seems rather stunning to me that in light of these rather staggering announcements the Pope has nothing to say about the matter on one his most active communication channels (he has 17.7 million followers on this English language Twitter account alone). I realize he may not want to address the specific stories directly on Twitter, but he has missed more than one opportunity to make serious and meaningful statements on sex abuse, on justice, on reform, on repentance and forgiveness, and more. I feel it would have been better if he had just shut down this account and said nothing. Basically he has said nothing while maintaining his stream of verbosity. This feels offensive to me. But I don’t know if I should be offended. What am I missing?
- I’m a bit surprised at the vacuity of many of these tweets. Are they untrue? I don’t think so. They seem theologically sound, if theological is even a word worth applying to them. But are they deep, deeper than a fortune cookie fortune? Not often. Do they represent well the powerful and rich traditions of Catholic thought? Not at all. Do they tend, at times, towards the saccharine and sentimental. Unfortunately, yes. Do they come across as basic, rather simplistic sayings that anyone (Catholic or non-Catholic) could quickly come up with? Yes. In that sense do they seem to be talking down to us, assuming we are simple minded people? That’s how I feel. Is that what the world needs? Maybe. And maybe that’s one more reason I’m not the Pope, or the person running his Twitter account for him.
Here’s what I think is probably going on: The Pope doesn’t really use Twitter at all. He has a team of people who manage his social media. They come up with things to tweet and he approves them. He doesn’t take it that seriously because he doesn’t live in the world of social media and therefore doesn’t really know its power and importance. Therefore he somewhat blindly trusts his social media team (they are the experts, right?) to handle that for him. And social media teams tend to be cautious (which is good) and work from a planned timeline. So, in a sense, while “Rome burns” they are just doing their jobs by following their timeline, not really concerning themselves with current events, certainly not diving into hot topics without clear direction from their superiors, and the Pope just nods his head that the tweets say something he believes and don’t say something he doesn’t like. IF this all adds up to a failing, then it may be more a failing of the Pope’s administration and not the vicar himself.
Still, they are officially the Pope’s tweets. He is putting his name on them.
Basically I’m just curious. I will leave it at that.