Pope Benedict XVI: God's representative on Twitter sends first message

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was... 'Dear'

The Pope has tweeted. Or as they might say in the Vatican: “Pontifex Maximus titiavit.” But immediately after sending a blessing to his 1.2 million followers, the Twittersphere was flooded with irreverent responses on a Biblical scale.

Inside the Pope Paul VI hall, a rapturous audience cheered as Pope Benedict XVI laid the papal finger on the tablet device before him. On the Internet, the response was more divisive, as believers and non-believers alike took the Roman Catholic Church to task over its beliefs, its teachings and a tragic history of sexual abuse.

“There’s nothing really there that we wouldn’t have anticipated,” said Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. “You have the mix of the frivolous and the cantankerous, but there are also some extraordinarily interesting and engaging questions.”

One user pondered: “If the Pope makes a typo, is the typo infallible?” while another asked the Pope directly: “Where did I put my keys? Can't find them anywhere.” Some cruelly mocked the 85-year-old for appearing to miss the correct key for sending his first tweet. Luckily Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli was on hand to step in and post the message in a timely fashion.

There were questions as to why his first Tweet (“Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart”) was not available in the traditional Latin (“vobiscum, cari amici, mihi libet per Titiationem conloqui. gratias vobis pro comissimis responsis ago. vos omnes ex animo benedico”).

Tweets by His Holiness, which are issued in eight different languages across eight separate accounts, come in the form of questions and answers. Among his assurances were: “We can be certain that a believer is never alone,” and he advised followers to “offer everything you do to the Lord”. He will Tweet with the help of Papal aides, as it is thought he still prefers to communicate in longhand. A report by data analysts at Floating Sheep showed that he is most popular (in terms of follower numbers) in Italy, Nicaragua and Zaire.

Today was not the first time the Pope has used Twitter. He sent a blessing via the Vatican news portal for its launch in June last year. But the creation of his own accounts suggests the Church is beginning to take social media more seriously. “The pope going on Twitter is important, but it’s important for the Church generally as it’s where people are spending increasing amounts of their time. [By going on Twitter, you can] facilitate dialogue with people from all parts of the world and have a meaningful debate,” said Monsignor Paul Tighe.

Rocco Palmo, a Catholic writer who chaired the first Vatican conference on new media, said: “The scepticism has gone now. There used to be parts of the Church where I was radioactive, but now a lot of bishops and priests are using Twitter, and even more are on Facebook.” He said he wasn’t surprised by the interest in the Pope’s Twitter account, saying it was a case of “one of the world’s oldest institutions coming into a new world”.

But there remain questions over whether Twitter is an appropriate place for a religious leader. At 1.2m followers, the Pope trails the Dalai Lama by 4.5m, but both followings are dwarfed by the hordes of people debating and deconstructing the musings of showbiz figures. Kim Kardashian, an American reality star whose Tweets largely show off her expensive designer clobber, has 16.8m, and tween-pleasing warbler Justin Bieber has 31.4m.

The President of Atheism UK, Mark Embleton, dismissed the whole affair as a “public relations stunt by the Vatican”, adding: “Anything the Pope does gets turned into a news event, but his first tweet is not really of any interest. However, if his subsequent tweets are ‘It's OK to use contraception’, or ‘homosexuality is not a sin’, then that would be newsworthy.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Danczuk has claimed he is a 'man of the world'
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recognised as one of the fastes...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Finance Manager - Central London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Business Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor