US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Habemus papam in Twitteratum: Pope to tweet (in Latin?)

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Now that Pope Benedict XVI is entering the Twitterverse--with the pope's first 140 characters to appear before the end of the year--I'm wondering how his embrace of this new(ish) communications medium relates to this week's creation of the Vatican's new Pontifical Academy for Latin Studies. Maybe he coud use the former to promote the latter?

The juxtaposition of the two announcements for me encapsulates the church's struggle with the contemporary world: On the one hand, even the Vatican recognizes it is increasingly fading from relevance and so reaches for new media to get its message out. Unfortunately, all those new media are fundamentally "democratic" in nature--a papal tweet is likely to have about as much authority as one from Lady Gaga--and that's only after B16 manages to get as many followers as Gaga (which may take a while). 

On the other hand, the Vatican gets downright testy about what the democratic culture embodied by the likes of Twitter produces. L'Osservatore Romano and papal spokesman Federico Lombardi were downright sarcastic in their response to the approval of gay marriage in three states last Tuesday and the advance of similar legislation in France: "why not contemplate freely chosen polygamy, and naturally so as to not discriminate, polyandry?" So we get a brand new papal institute for Latin studies, where the "goal is to promote both written and spoken [!!] Latin." And here I thought the Vatican itself was an institute for the promotion of Latin! Obviously the two aren't directly connected, but still.

I suppose this could be another twist on the Catholic "both/and," but I'm not sure either initiative really hits the mark. There's no point in signing up for a Twitter handle unless you're ready to join in the give and take of social media--and I don't foresee a lot of "give" on the Vatican side. The creation of an institute for Latin studies, on the other hand, merely reinforces the public image of the church as some kind of museum of antiquities--a place to go when you want a history lesson, but not a place to learn how to live in the world today.