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Column So the Pope has joined Twitter. What will he learn there?

Social media is all about debate and dissent, writes Fr Tony Flannery – so perhaps it can teach the Vatican a lesson.

WE ARE INFORMED that Pope Benedict has begun to tweet. Seeing the use that some celebrities and sports people make of their tweets, maybe we can now expect to get the real story of the Butler and Vatileaks.  But I won’t hold my breath. There is something incongruous about the eighty-five-year-old, serious minded and traditional academic attempting to engage in the world of today’s youth. I hope he doesn’t get completely carried away and begin to read the normal type of exchange that goes on in this Twitter world.

Joseph Ratzinger, in his early days as a priest, was a forward-thinking liberal. This all changed, those who know him tell us, during the summer of 1968, when the student revolutions swept the universities around Europe. As a lecturer in a German university he was so shocked by what he saw and heard that he changed, and became the strict law enforcer that we have known him to be for many years now in the Church. During his time as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later as Pope, the Catholic Church had reverted back to a style of governance more suited to the early to middle nineteenth century than to our modern age. Decision-making has become centralised in the Vatican, and dissent is being snuffed out in the most dictatorial fashion.

Church decline

A good example of this, which is currently in the news due to the dismissal of a number of priests, is the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood.  This has been a thorny subject in most Christian Churches for some years now. The reformed Churches have mostly attempted to deal with it, and in spite of a great deal of opposition, have made real headway. But the Catholic Church, under John Paul ll and Benedict have gone the other way.

They have declared that because Christ only chose men as his apostles the Church is bound by this, and cannot ever ordain any woman to the priesthood. They have made this an article of faith, some authorities even suggesting that it is an infallible teaching. And they have stated that, not only is it not possible, but it cannot even be discussed. (I wonder how that type of attitude will go down in the Twitter world!?) Now we are witnessing an increasing number of bishops, priests and religious being dismissed, and even excommunicated, because they have spoken up in favour of the ordination of women.


I am a Redemptorist priest, and there is a story in our group that some time ago an old priest was helping a young, newly ordained, man to write his sermon.  The young man gave his mentor the text he had prepared.  As the mentor went through it he wrote comments in the margin. At one point the comment read: “Argument weak here; shout loud!”  The Vatican position on this issue is somewhat similar. Their argument against the ordination of women is very weak, indeed it has been almost totally discredited by the Bible scholars, and they are terrified of the problems and difficulties that would arise if they allowed it to be openly discussed, so they come down with a heavy hand on anyone who dares mention it in public.

But in reality they are a very enclosed, and somewhat arrogant, group in the Vatican, who do not realise that many of their attitudes are redolent of centuries past. (Cardinal Martini, in his message from the grave, said that they were two hundred years behind the times; some of us think he was being too kind!) They do not realise that trying to suppress ideas and discussion is no longer possible with modern communications.  Maybe, just maybe, the Pope’s excursion into Twitter will teach him that. A consummation devoutly to be wished, as the Bard said many years ago.

Tony Flannery is a member of The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). The ACP is an association for Catholic priests who wish to have a forum and a voice to reflect, discuss and comment on issues affecting the Irish Church and society today.

More: Pope joins Twitter at @pontifex – but won’t tweet until next week>

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