Is the Pope Absolving Sin Via Twitter?

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.

Eight-year-olds, Dude

Erick Erickson of Redstate reports on a county council race in Ohio that features candidate Tim Russo.  The twist: Russo was arrested and convicted in 2001 on charges of soliciting minors for sex – turned out, the minor was actually an undercover FBI agent.

But Russo has an ardent defender in blogger Howie Klein.  Klein calls the 2001 incident “the most boring episode of To Catch a Predator ever” in a cross-posting at both DownWithTyranny and The Huffington Post:

Easily the most reactionary pope since Hitler’s boy Pio, Ratzinger didn’t have a problem with priests raping young boys– as long as they stuck with conservative dogma. When he ran the Munich diocese that was also the birthplace and heartland of the Nazism that he once fully and openly embraced, the future Pope had hundreds of child rapists and mentally unbalanced priests in his ranks and he never said a word beyond, “don’t get caught, boys.”

My mistake – that last paragraph was Klein criticizing the Pope and the Catholic Church for covering up instances of adults taking advantage of minors.  It was written way back in those simple times of late March 2010.

Of course, Klein has a point – no matter how much you agree with someone philosophically, if they do something wrong that has consequences.  Unless, apparently, it’s a political candidate Klein supports:

Russo has the sort of leadership experience Cuyahoga County desperately needs at this dangerous, hopeful crossroads. But local media are doing their best to scuttle his campaign before it really begins. Why? Because in November 2001 he solicited sex from an FBI agent posing online as a minor and was made Pervert of the Day for an entire 24-hour news cycle. Local media want him to pay for that for the rest of his life.

Clearly, Russo has paid for his crimes, but there are a few mistakes which you simply can’t pay off – and soliciting minors for sex is one of them. As Edwin Edwards famously quipped, the scandals which end political careers are getting caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.

Russo has compounded his crime with his own words, sounding more defiant than understanding of the reluctance to embrace him.  “Bottom line, I survived it. Many would not have. That should tell you all you need to know,” he writes – just before asking for donations.

A reading from the Blogs of St. Paul to the Ephesians

And lo, after one year had passed since the establishment of an official YouTube Channel for the Roman Catholic Church, did the Pope Benedict XVI come forth and say to the flock, Take ye these online tools, and useth them, and spread thy faith far and wide.  And be not discouraged by those who cast doubt, nor by an inability to access a wifi hot spot.

One of the best books available on political strategy is Dedication and Leadership by Douglas Hyde.  Hyde was a bigwig in the British Communist Party who left and became an active Catholic.  His message to Catholics, through this book, was that despite the evils of Communism, the Communist party used effective techniques to recruit and retain membership – techniques which, he argued, could be used by any organization regardless of philosophy, including the Church.  As a modern-day example, Hyde might point to the online tactics which helped elect Barack Obama’s which were then used for successful Republican candidates like Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown.

A wired Vatican fits nicely as another modern-day extension of Hyde’s vision; and any institution that ignores the tools of today as an outreach tool is destined to fail.  Any man-made institution – even if divinely inspired – must recruit to survive.  (Even Jesus Christ Himself knew that He wouldn’t run the Church forever and understood the need to recruit apostles.)

To put it another way: God helps those who help themselves.

Plus, this course of action is far more strategic and savvy than efforts which would simply offer the Church a PR facelift: