Nope. But that’s the quick and dirty understanding of today’s announcement that Pope Francis will grant the same plenary indulgences to those who follow his appearances on Twitter as he does to those who show up in person. Mashable had to correct an earlier post that made the mistake, and other outlets have had a similarly difficult time understanding what’s going on.
Credit the Church with gamely trying to explain the tactic:
But a senior Vatican official warned web-surfing Catholics that indulgences still required a dose of old-fashioned faith, and that paradise was not just a few mouse clicks away.
“You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine,” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Unfortunately, even the framing of this quote reflects that the Church’s announcement wasn’t completely understood with the explanation. (Sidebar: The phrase “old-fashioned faith” is a literary crutch. Faith is not old-fashioned, as any modern religion can tell you.) The entire story reads like the news that Newt Gingrich was paying for Twitter followers, with the expectation that a modern-day Martin Luther will nail 95 theses (each one 140 characters or less) to the Vatican door about why pardoning sin for a Twitter follow is wrong.
A better description is that those in attendance via social media will be treated like those in attendance in person. The Church might have added that, much like angels and prayer, that which is unseen is often more powerful as that which is seen. (Or, that which is invisible is often more powerful than the visible, if you prefer the new translation.) In the parlance of our times, it’s the religious equivalent of working from home but not having to take a sick day.
Credit the Pope for opening up avenues for online communication, and making his appearances that much more accessible. With that, though, comes the need to explain the faith to those who don’t understand it. It’s not evangelism, it’s public relations.