Are Christ’s mission and Holy Church well-served by “me-tooism”?

My friend Fr. Tim Finigan, His Hermeueticalness, has written with a touch of irony about the recent launch of the Holy Father’s Twitter account, @pontifex.

Among Father’s observations is an amusing bit about how the Holy See’s explanatory announcement of this Twitter thing, bloggers such as he and I are referred to as “early adapters”.  Father also posts a photo of old bakelite sockets and plugs.  That in itself is reason enough to visit his blog and be amused.  He also added, correctly, that this move by the Holy See, and the measure of cooperation among different dicasteries, suggests that, finally, some in the Curia realize that they have to adapt or die.   To put it another way, it isn’t quite good enough to, as I have in the past sardonically described the Holy See’s approach to technology, “Update our equipment every 75 years, whether it needs it or not.”

This morning I was talking to a priest friend about the propriety/wisdom of the Holy Father having a Twitter account.

As you can by now tell, I have my reservations.

I focused on the question from the point that Tweeting seems – for a Pope – to be infra dignitatem.  At least right now.

Yes, yes.  I know all the points about St. Paul writing letters to communities and bishops using the Imperial postal system.  I know about stained-glass and the printing press and radio and all those other things.  I was the one who came up with the image of Christ being the first to use technology, to perform “on line ministry”, when he had Himself but let out on the water in a boat on the end of a line so that more people could hear him as the stood on the shore.   Yes, yes.  I know that.

But my friend raised a good point.

As we watch the hierarchy at home and abroad lurching around trying to figure out what to do in the face of social comms, are we not seeing one example of “me-tooism” after another?

“Hey!  Did you know that young people go to rock concerts!?!  Let’s have one too!”

The Holy See would do well to focus on a theology of communication.  

Christ is the Perfect Communicator (Communio et progressio, 11).   Let’s start there.

IDEA: Let the Social Communications types in the Curia sponsor another meeting in Rome for bloggers and bring in people to talk about a theology of communication.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Faith says:

    Theology of Communication — I love it!!!!!
    I’ve read where some jerks have already tweeted obscenities to our Holy Father’s Account. I think FB can be monitored, so that would have been a better choice.

  2. Jenice says:

    Good points, all of them. However, I’m excited about the Pope’s tweets. I have no idea how to send or receive tweets, but I’m thinking of figuring it out, because I love the Pope, I think everthing he says is well worth listening to, and it has the feel of a personal message–to me!–even thought I know it isn’t. Plus I just love the idea of the 85 year old Pope sending tweets!

  3. Lisa Graas says:

    Well, everyone knows I’m okay with using Twitter, but I agree, Father.

    One flaw. The poor and the lame bloggers are the ones who can’t afford to go to Rome, and the poor and the lame are the ones who know in their actual flesh and spirit about the theology of identity in Christ.

    Just sayin’…

  4. charismatictrad says:

    I am a teacher at a Catholic school and although I have my reservations, I am excited about the Pope’s Twitter account. Why? Because in the midst of celebrities, bad peers, and immoral Twitter groups, my students will sign up for the Pope’s Twitter account out of pure curiosity. In other words: amongst sinners and amongst sin, Christ’s message is present to provide contrast and more importantly, Truth. Sure, people will be rude to His Holiness, but when have they not? I noticed there are quite a bit of liberals following…great! The early Church Fathers and Popes wrote against the heretics of their time, so let it be done today!

  5. Hidden One says:

    If Tweetign is below the dignity of the Pope, is it below that of a Cardinal Bishop? If it is below that of a Cardinal Bishop, then is it also below that of a Cardinal Priest or Cardinal Deacon? If it is below the dignity of the Sacred College, is it below that of the Metropolitan Archbishop or Patriarch? What then of the relative-to-Twitter dignity of a personal-title Archbishop, diocesan bishop, auxiliary bishop, bishop emeritus, abbot of any sort, or other similarly ranking prelate? What of monsignors, and what of simple priests? What of deacons, permanent and transitional? What of subdeacons, lectors, tonsured seminarians, and suchlike?

    If a line is to be drawn – and I do not say that it should not be – I would like to know where, and why. I think, Fr. Z, that you are right to have misgivings and to seek a theology of communications. I think, too, that there may be many surprises when (if) one is finally worked out – but that is one of the reasons that one should be worked out.

  6. LisaP. says:

    So much that is so bad comes from twitter, and it’s founding premises seem to be anything but neutral. I can see it being a good thing for a pope to go into a brothel and serve the people there. But this seems more like going into a brothel and inviting everyone on the street to come in also.

    Sorry, I’ll keep an open mind, but I think this is a mistake.

  7. benedetta says:

    I am following the Holy Father’s papal tweets. I hope that one day very soon I will log on to twitter to discover a tweet announcing that the Holy Father will offer Mass in the ancient rite!

  8. Animadversor says:

    Not in favor here. One notices, though, that the Holy Father hasn’t tweeted yet. Perhaps he is waiting until he really has something to say? Or perhaps he is trying to impress upon us the importance of holy silence?

  9. Son of Trypho says:

    I think a lot of this has been motivated by the debacle about Williamson and his internet posts – the Church suggesting that its entire bureaucracy wasn’t aware of them, indicated that they were severely out of touch with modern media issues/methods.

  10. Traductora says:

    In communication, the content is the important thing. The medium is not the message, but the message can’t get out without the right medium.

    I think a few pithy tweets could actually build up a following (and he apparently plans to let people tweet questions at certain audiences). Obviously, he is not sitting there monitoring his own twitter feed, but other people will be screening it and pulling out relevant questions.

    That said, it has completely appalled me to see some of the tweets about this because I had no idea there were that many hate-filled people out there. But maybe that’s not a bad thing for the Vatican to realize, either. It’s not just that people don’t care about the Church or about the Christian message: they actively hate the whole thing.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    Why don’t they try some innovations when it comes to activities in parishes? Like–reasons for people to show up during the week and get more interested in the Church? That’d be a far better used of time and money, I’d think.

  12. I received today a solicitation letter from the new rector of Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, Very Rev. Robert Barron, telling how he wants to form seminarians there.

    “I want Mundelein Seminary to be a powerhouse for the new evangelization. . . . I want, first, to form young men who have a vibrant and personal relationship to Jesus Christ. . . . I want to send ardent preachers. . . . I want to form a generation of evangelists who grasp the dynamics at work in today’s society” (touching all his main points). Then:

    “Finally, I want to shape future priests who know how to use the new media. We are living at a revolutionary moment in communications technology, for we now have access to tools that make the rapid spreading of the Word all over the world relatively easy. Young people today have this new technology in their blood, bones, and fingers. I want to train and encourage them to use it boldly.”

    Thoughts? Is this what today’s young seminarians need as a principal focus of their formation as priests?

    [I would ask what sort of training the men have there in the Usus Antiquior.]

  13. aragonjohn7 says:


    Yep, or that and prudence possibly patriotism…

    God only knows….

    God bless

  14. acardnal says:

    RE the comment by Henry Edwards: I have not (yet) received Fr. Barron’s fund raising letter but I expect I will. I would like to hear him say something about training the seminarians in the TLM/Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite AND teaching them Latin at Mundelein!

  15. Pingback: The Pope on Twitter and What It Means to Me - Catholic Bandita

  16. Norah says:

    I think it is a good idea that seminarians learn how to use the new methods of communication, basic accounting, how to get on with people etc but I also think that seminarians need to learn the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church so that they won’t be fooled by the many dissenting voices out in the real world. From what I have seen in a YouTube of his Fr Barron has doubts about there really being an Adam and an Eve.

  17. LisaP. says:

    Hah! Sorry, but it’s only old people who ever think young people need to be *taught* how to use the Internet. Cracks me up.

  18. StWinefride says:

    The problem today is that “style over substance” trumps “substance over style”.

    Even in my relatively short lifetime, the “dumbing down” is evident. That’s why I believe that the Pope should not have a Twitter account.

    The Church can and should find a way to communicate effectively to the younger generation – but Her dignity must remain intact. She is after all, the Bride of Christ. She is Holy.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Henry Edwards,

    I think the new media and social networks etc. suffer from being “learned”. Except that it is perhaps necessary to learn to be careful about them; all else, to make someone one scheduled program learn them is to make them lose energy on actually using them without teaching them anything they had not already known. And maybe even lose skills, as new media and social networks, for good or evil, live from spontaneity of messages which is by definition unlearnable.

    (On a perhaps similar thing, I always had my reservation about too much of literature analysis at school. It draws people off reading.)

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Hah! Sorry, but it’s only old people who ever think young people need to be *taught* how to use the Internet. Cracks me up.”

    It is an urban myth that young people know how to use the Internet better than old people. They are just better at pushing buttons and exploring the results because they have more time and less experience. Older people know what is important :)

    The Chicken

  21. LisaP. says:

    Imrahil, agree entirely.

    In the elementary schools I’ve seen, they no longer have time to teach much history or science, or old fashioned things like cursive writing. They no longer have resources to hire janitors (true story, friend just told me her kid got clobbered in the head and got a concussion from a chair because the kids were told they’re weren’t enough janitors to take care of the classrooms). But they all race to be the ones with Smartboards and computer labs and they send the kids there three times a week to “learn” how to do complex tasks like logging on, using a search engine, etc.

    I subbed at a high school once where the student teacher was tasked to give the students an assignment — they were to go home, log on to the school’s site using their student number, and email their teacher any message they wanted(precarious assignment, that one).

    He wrote the assignment on the board. Then he told them what to do. Then he had them repeat back to him the assignment. Then he explained again referring to what he had written on the board. Seriously, this was a class of juniors, some of them in past ages would have been signing up to fight the Huns and here they were having to repeat back to him how to use a password.

    Agree also on literature. I had a couple amazing professors who brought new insight into literature — one had us read Lewis’ “Preface to Paradise Lost” and introduced the concept to me that the fatalism of the Greek tragedies might not have been what it seemed to be (he was a sneaky Christian guy, I realize now! Oh, those Southerners!). But most of the time literary analysis was just the professor giving his shallow opinion based on nothing but her musings and inviting everyone else to do the same because what mattered was not the intent of the author (which it sometimes takes some historical guidance to tease out) but how the reader takes it. Probably dating myself there.

  22. PA mom says:

    Re: His Holiness’ silence, perhaps waiting for a respectable sized audience to have signed on to him? Do my students use this? i dont know. Good question for next class. I will try to remember to tell them about it.
    Regardless, this will not get me on Twitter.

  23. LisaP. says:

    Masked Chicken,

    I’m guessing on the level you operate it’s a whole different story — programming or building circuits or whatever things I don’t even know to list. I don’t think young people, for example, are more inclined to building a circuit board (is that even close to an accurate way to put it?) than an older person, probably less if you are talking about a person in his 70s who actually knows what a soldering gun is.

    I also entirely agree that the important things in internet communication — e.g. judgment, discernment, knowledge base, communication ability — are good to teach. But those things are taught on their own and then applied to internet communications.

    That may be what the Father above was referring to. But it quacked to me like the same old, “We’ll teach them how to sign on to Blogger!” sort of thing I see all the time. Any seminarian who can’t figure out for himself how to start a blog, well, that’s an issue of competence. You want to teach him how to use a blog well, that’s terrific. I can definitely see a place for teaching or discussing things like how to foster conversations without inviting schism, how to encourage vocations, how to communicate with Chinese Christians who might be able to access your blog, etc.

    It’s just the whole thing where the teacher thinks teaching his students how to use Twitter gets them ready for the future — first, if they want to use Twitter they can already use Twitter. Second, Twitter is already yesterday’s technology — yesteryear’s. Third, Twitter is like any tool in that it can do harm if used indiscriminately. Fourth, time spend learning to Tweet is time not spent learning or doing a number of other, likely more useful, things.

    At the risk of shameless flattery, I have to refer to this blog. I’m guessing the host did not need extensive classes in blog maintenance, probably a tutorial here and there and chatting with people, peer advise. What makes this blog useful is not its tech dazzle, but the knowledge base and the communication intent behind it. Those obviously existed before the blog did.

  24. LisaP. says:

    I think accounting is brilliant, assume/ hope that’s in the curriculum.
    The Adam and Eve thing is starting to make me sad, got lectured by an RE teacher before Mass at what I thought was an orthodox parish, he disparaged several students who didn’t realize Adam and Eve were “of course, only a story”, or something like that. Not just teaching error, but insisting upon it and publicly berating children who believed in the historical truth of the existence of Adam and Eve.

    I have no understanding of Father Baron’s take, but wanted to sympathize with the problem. It’s like church leaders are so intent on distancing themselves from those anti-Darwinist Evangelicals they don’t discern what the Church really teaches on the subject, or work to understand the nuances that make it possible for a Catholic (although not obligatory) to consider Darwinian evolution probable and to consider Genesis literary without believing the historical elements of it to be merely mythical.

  25. jbpolhamus says:

    “On-line”? Try “One-line” ministries. Paul didn’t write one-liner epistles, nor should the Holy Father. Society requires better of him, even if they are incapable of reading it. Anyway, I don’t Twitter.

  26. The Masked Chicken says:

    As a venue for database sharing, the Internet is unrivaled. At my fingers I have a depth of information unparalleled in history. Asa venue for socialization, it is nothing short of atavistic. Where could on imagine having the disputations of the Middle Ages on the Internet? Where is the civil discourse? I, honestly, do not thing the Vatican understands the natue of the Beast.

    Having been on the Internet since its inception, I can see a falling off of the cliff as far as any intellectual potential for growth in shared communicaion outside of downloading articles.

    The Vatican and Fr. Barron, both, should stop and read the Wikipedia article on the Eternal September and Nicholas carr’s article in the Atlantic Monthly (available, online) calle,d “Is Google making us Stupid?”

    The Chicken

  27. The Masked Chicken says:

    Sorry for the typing mistakes. I am trying a Bluetooth keyboard and it is not at the right height for my chicken fingers.

  28. happyCatholic says:

    As the mother of three twenty-something daughters, I know Twitter is a medium and court wherein young people operate. I would rather they follow the Holy Father and get some access to his insight and his balance than not have it available. I can see the argument that it may not be “dignified;” however, social media is ubiquitous in our times and we ignore it at our loss. I am thinking the Good Shepherd goes in search of the sheep, many of whom do not even know they are lost.

    And not to make all things political, because they most certainly aren’t, but the results of the November US elections should if nothing else awaken us to how easily especially young women were demagogued over the contraception issue. My daughters said there were numerous Facebook postings by young women celebrating after Obama’s victory that their freedom of “choice” and “birth control” was now secure. Quite frankly, I was shocked. I honestly thought young women were smarter than that, but apparently not. Therefore, I say, please have the moral authority of the Pope, whose authority is without peer, be present on Twitter. He can actually drive topics then, not merely react to them.

    And as to the 140 word limit? I see it as a fun challenge; it is like writing a haiku or a sonnet. It can be like writing poetry — getting your thought across within the limits of form? Plus, it reaches young people where they live– with very short attention spans. And being on Twitter in no way precludes his writing longer pieces; in fact, his tweets can direct people to them.

  29. happyCatholic says:

    Sigh, sorry…typo. Should not be a question mark after the third to last sentence. :(

  30. Imrahil says:

    Dear @happyCatholic,

    just a short annotation: the shocking thing is the attitude they have – not the technical means to make this same attitude heard… at least in my opinion.

  31. happyCatholic says:

    Oh, I do agree — it is the attitude that is shocking. I hope that was clear. It was not shocking to me that they used Facebook to spread their elation, but that they were elated in the first place. My further point with that, though, is how much these young people need to be exposed to ideas outside of their own “echo chambers” and that the way to reach them is likely to be through the mediums where they are — social media and, in particular, Twitter. They are there, so I think the Vicar of the Good Shepherd is appropriately there, too.

  32. happyCatholic says:

    Interesting observation:
    So I just asked my 21 year old about this. She is graduating Saturday with a degree in Communication and PR and social media was a huge part of what she was taught to be a tool for marketing, etc. She hesitated (surprisingly to me) and she said, “Well, for some reason Obama tweeting really bothers me. I don’t think the President should be doing that. But, I don’t feel that way about the Pope tweeting.” So, she is uncertain or conflicted about the inconsistency in her feelings. She does agree that by tweeting, the Pope is going where the sheep are. And, as she further reflects, she feels may be because it seems like the President should be working and focusing on problems in the country, while the Pope’s “job” is to reach out and spread the Gospel, and Twitter can be a tool for that.

    Just wanted to toss that out there into the mix of comments, for what it’s worth.

  33. MichaelJ says:

    I understand the drive to “go where the Sheep are”, but do not think twitter is the appropriate medium for the Holy Father. From what I’ve seen, twitter is a mini blog without a moderator.

    On his first “tweet”, he will be attacked mercilessly by those that frankly hate him and the Church. Then his defenders will chime in and the original message will soon be lost amid the ruckus.

    As this appears to be inevitable, though, perhaps Father Z can offer some advice? What is the appropriate response of faithful Catholics to those types of “tweets” that will come?

  34. Supertradmum says:

    MichaelJ, we are persecuted everywhere, so what does it matter? Ignore the rude and instruct the ignorant. Those on electronic media expect nastiness, just as any Catholic who is evangelizing either at work or in the family. It is no different. Personally, IMO, anything the Vatican does to improve communication of any sort is a blessing.

  35. MichaelJ says:

    Supertradmum, I too think that anything the Vatican does to improve communication is a blessing. What I do not think, though, is that twitter is one of those “things”.

  36. robtbrown says:

    LisaP. says:

    I think accounting is brilliant, assume/ hope that’s in the curriculum.

    The financial mistakes made by pastors would not be remedied by a course in accounting but simply being more responsible. It is simply a matter of common sense not to put a parish in debt with largely unnecessary building or renovation programs, esp. in a flat economy.

    IMHO, one problem in the US is that pastors can put a parish in heavy debt, then be transferred, leaving the problems to his successor.

    I have no understanding of Father Baron’s take, but wanted to sympathize with the problem. It’s like church leaders are so intent on distancing themselves from those anti-Darwinist Evangelicals they don’t discern what the Church really teaches on the subject, or work to understand the nuances that make it possible for a Catholic (although not obligatory) to consider Darwinian evolution probable and to consider Genesis literary without believing the historical elements of it to be merely mythical.

    What are those nuances that allow a Catholic to consider Darwinian evolution probable?

    Although I consider so-called micro-evolution (i.e., of limbs, fingers, etc) possible, so-called macro-evolution is a much different problem. The first refers to quantitative differences, the latter to qualitative. There are leaps in the universe between various levels of being: Non-being and being; living and non-living; vegetation and sentient being (brute animals); brute animals and rational animals. Those leaps cannot be explained merely by the differences in material structure.

    It is one thing to say that there could be some developmental relationship between dinosaurs and birds. But it is quite another to say that microscopic living things could, given billions of years and the powers of the universe, evolve into another living thing that produced the Mozart piano concerti (BTW, yesterday was the anniversary of his death).

  37. Supertradmum says:

    [I would ask what sort of training the men have there in the Usus Antiquior.] Fr Z.

    NONE! The priests of St. John Cantius give a three day workshop at the retreat house there on campus and seminarians are invited to sing up and pay the fee and attend, but it is not part of the college curriculum. Some sems may go. So far, it has not be required nor encouraged. February 5, 2013 through February 8, 2013 at Cardinal Stritch Retreat House, Mundelein Illinois–the only one for this coming year so far at that venue.
    You left the note on Henry Edwards post….Henry Edwards, not a priority and most, except the sems from Latin American countries, know all this stuff already. They grew up with it.

    Lisa P., And I am against the idea that priests need to be good businessmen or accountants. I know of one diocese who looks for men who are skilled in these things or have such talents. That is not how God gives vocations. Lay people can do those things in a parish.

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