In what is doubtless an upsetting move for doctrinal wonks around the globe, Pope Benedict XVI has opened a Twitter feed, where he will dispense divine wisdom to the masses in 140 characters or less. Which tweets are infallible? If retweets are endorsements, is forgiveness involved? If the Pope blocks you, are you excommunicated?
As of this morning, he is only "following" seven other users—all of them versions of his own feed in different languages, specifically German (his native tongue), Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, French and Arabic—though he has 110,000 followers and counting so rapidly that it will probably be in the 115,000 range by the time this story is published. His Holiness hasn't even begun tweeting yet—that starts on Dec. 12.
Vatican Radio, the official news service of the Pope and the Catholic Church, points out that at the beginning of the year, Benedict observed on World Communications Day that brevity could be a virtue. “In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated—as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives,” he said.
If you'd like to ask the Pope a question, he apparently has a chance of answering it: English language users can tweet @pontifex with the hashtag #askpontifex.
Questions thus far have ranged from the respectful:
What is the responsibility of the faithful in service of their faith? #askpontifex— Cameo Cheung (@cameomcheung) December 3, 2012
To the amusing:
#askpontifex have you heard the one about Bob Hope, Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs?— Nadine's Eyepatch (@nadineseyepatch) December 3, 2012
To the less respectful:
#askpontifex Could God conjure up a rock so big even he couldn't lift it?— James Hunt (@JamesHunt) December 3, 2012
“I think symbolically this is very important, this is the head of the Church going into a new digital arena to share his words and ideas," said Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. "It’s an encouragement to those already present using Twitter and other forms of social media to reach an even wider group of people."
No word yet on whether His Holiness is upset about being upstaged by Prince William and Kate Middleton's upcoming royal baby.
UPDATE: And, of course, there's a fake Pope account already.
Ironically, Prince Charles will be playing King Herod in the Royal family's Nativity play this year. #RoyalBaby— The Pope(@RealPontifex) December 3, 2012