Jul 18, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 30: Indulge me

Dear Pope Francis,

Well, there was certainly a debate stirred up by the story that the Vatican might be offering indulgences for Twitter followers on your @pontifex account.

OK, so The Guardian maybe didn’t read the fine print on that before writing the headline. Here’s a more balanced view from Fr. James Martin, which stresses that this is about World Youth Day and ways of connecting if you can’t be there in person.

I’m all for opening things up, as Fr. Martin suggests that the Vatican is doing. It’s great that you are encouraging people to engage with you online.

But why the sin/hell talk? And plenary indulgences? Didn’t that go out with, you know, hair shirts and self-flagellation? At the very least they’re not mentioned much in a post-Vatican II context.

What I would have loved to have seen was messaging from the Vatican around how to participate in World Youth Day if you can’t be there in person, and a list of online resources and ways to see key events live-streamed online.

Maybe The Guardian wouldn’t have been able to run with such a hyperbolic headline, but at least it would not have led to more eye-rolling and “oh, there goes the Vatican” on social media and elsewhere. Language is important, and words such as “indulgences” or “purgatory” just reinforce the image of the Catholic Church as being all about sin, guilt and failing. That’s rather sad, as most of us Catholics know the Church is so, so much more.

Again, it’s so good to see the Vatican opening up to new means of communication. I just think this attempt needed a bit of fine-tuning. Maybe instead of focusing on sin, hell and purgatory (oh my!), a message about how participating in World Youth Day, no matter how, is another way of connecting with the Divine.

And we all need more of those in our lives.

Hope your packing for Brazil is going well.

Your friend,




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