Pope's Twitter Not Road to Heaven Church Setting Record Straight on Indulgences

Article excerpt

Despite recent reports, you cannot avoid hell, have sins forgiven or save anyone's soul by following Pope Francis (@pontifex) on Twitter.

Such claims erupted this week after a British newspaper mangled a story about the usual plenary indulgence available to participants in the pope's World Youth Day. The Vatican decree said it could be extended to those who follow the celebration electronically, if accompanied by sacramental Confession, Eucharist and appropriate prayer.

The headline in Tuesday's Guardian was "Vatican offers 'time off purgatory' to followers of Pope Francis' tweets."

"Summer is a slow news time, and with all the Francis-mania, suddenly every reporter fancies himself a Vatican specialist," said Rocco Palmo, a Philadelphian who blogs about the Roman Catholic Church at "Whispers In the Loggia" and moderated at a 2011 Vatican conference on Catholic social media.

"It's an outbreak of the summertime stupids mixed with the fascination with Pope Francis."

By the time the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit journalist, tried to set the record straight on the CNN Belief Blog, he counted nearly 200 news sources with similar headlines. He wrote that definitions of indulgence were in error and that the Twitter connection was a huge stretch.

There's nothing new in obtaining an indulgence "via the new means of social communication."

Listening to the pope's Christmas and Easter addresses can bring an indulgence if done in the right spirit with sacraments, and has been extended via radio and television for 50 years, Mr. Palmo said. New media have been included for at least a year, he said.

The decree was issued July 9 for next week's World Youth Day, a Catholic festival, in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

"The young people and the faithful who are adequately prepared will obtain the Plenary Indulgence" if accompanied by Confession, Eucharist and prayer, the decree said.

"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 . …