By now, we're all familiar with the rituals associated with the papacy changing hands—white smoke, the red shoes, free helicopter rides—but the Vatican has discovered a new one for the 21st century. Less than 30 minutes after Benedict XVI went from Pope to Pope Emeritus, the Vatican scrubbed his Twitter accounts, removing his name and deleting all of the tweets he's made since launching the account just two months ago. They've replaced his name with "Sede Vacante," the Latin term used to indicate the time periods when there is no pope. (Literally: "the seat being vacant.") The @Pontifex handle remains quiet, awaiting its new owner.
We were wondering how they would handle this very eventuality—after it was brought up by someone else on Twitter, that is—but we did not expect the Holy See to take such a drastic measure. Sure, the Library of Congress is supposedly saving everything for posterity and it would have been confusing to suddenly switch the account to a completely different voice, but erasing Benedict's Twitter history from the sands of time? Pretty extreme. But like everything else having to do with Benedict's abdication, there is simply no precedent for how to behave right now.
However, if the other rituals of the Cathloic Church are any guide, this is merely a new and modern way of drawing a hard line between one pope and next, to prove the old one is truly gone and the new one is the supreme Holy Father. Perhaps the Deleting of the Tweets is the digital equivalent of smashing the Ring of the Fisherman?
When you leave your job, they disable your email account. When the pope leave his, they DESTROY HIS RING WITH A SPECIAL HAMMER. #balller— Michael B Dougherty (@michaelbd) February 28, 2013
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.