Modesty and humility, in fact, seem to be the defining characteristics of his papacy. He ditched the ostentatious luxury vehicles -- a custom Renault, BMW
X5, and a Mercedes -- of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI and opted for a discreet Ford Focus. He's also skipping out on summer down time at the posh papal villa Castel Gandolfo, preferring
to remain in his modest Vatican guesthouse (which he selected as an alternative to the papal residence in the Apostolic Palace). He has even refused the standard sartorial splendor,
shunning both the fancy Pope cape and shoes. When Francis recently learned that a statue in his likeness had been installed near the Cathedral in Buenos
Aires, he phoned a priest there and ordered it immediately removed.
Still, the decision to grant indulgences over the Internet strikes both Avella and Rev. John O'Malley, S.J., an internationally acclaimed scholar on the Vatican and
professor at Georgetown University, as peculiar. "This Twitter stuff, I have to admit, all sounds very strange to me," O'Malley wrote in an email. He also
stressed that the principle of papal infallibility does not cover such a pronouncement. "The pope is not infallible in everything he says or does but only
in a VERY restricted area and under VERY specific circumstances," he wrote. "The Twitter indulgences does not fulfill those criteria in even the slightest
way." The scholars also seemed to doubt whether, in a maze of Vatican bureaucracy, the directive was initiated or even directly authorized by the Pope
himself. Avella wrote:
I doubt whether Papa Francesco knows about this nonsense...and I would bet that if he does, he'll poo-poo it as the action of some over-zealous Vatican
bureaucrat...even Benedict would find indulgenced tweets a bit too much. Francesco does not like this "quantified" grace business or the idea that
saying X number of prayers gets you certain results.
Francis does not actually type out his Twitter dispatches -- but he does reportedly "approve" them -- so it's not that far-fetched of a theory. The Vatican press
office has not responded to an inquiry about whether he signed off.
Whoever the idea originated with, the decree seems well-intentioned enough. It simply offers the same spiritual opportunities to those who, for legitimate
reasons, cannot attend the event (and agree to earnestly and seriously participate over the Internet) as it does to those who can afford the journey. It
The faithful who on account of a legitimate impediment cannot attend the aforementioned celebrations may obtain Plenary Indulgence under the usual
spiritual, sacramental and prayer conditions, in a spirit of filial submission to the Roman Pontiff, by participation in the sacred functions on the
days indicated, following the same rites and spiritual exercises as they occur via television or radio or, with due devotion, via the new means of
The message of prayer and faith must remain the same, it seems to say, it's just accomplished through a different medium -- the Internet.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the head of the pontifical council for social communication, clarified the policy further in an
interview with the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. "You don't get the indulgence the way you get a coffee from a vending machine. There's no counter
handing out certificates," he said. "What really matters is that the Pope's tweets from Brazil, or the photos of World Youth Day that will be posted on
Pinterest, should bear authentic spiritual fruit in the hearts of each one of us."