Social media as much a challenge as it is an aid

Social media as much a challenge as it is an aid

The advantages of social media as a tool for evangelisation or – arguably – an environment in which evangelisation can take place are discussed on a regular basis nowadays, but the difficulties of maintaining a coherent, timely and appropriate social media presence aren’t always acknowledged.

This was demonstrated all too sharply last weekend, when the American Diocese of Tulsa tweeted a link to a article entitled ‘The role of the Holy Spirit in papal elections’ and sniped of the cardinals in the 2013 conclave that “they ignored it”.

Villanova University theologian Massimo Faggioli picked up on this very quickly from
@MassimoFaggioli, commenting: “I think the Catholic @DioceseofTulsa has some explaining to do for its latest tweet.

“I am more worried for use of social media by some Catholic organisations and institutions: they are supposed to have some ‘sensus Ecclesiae’,” he said, adding that he was sure that the Oklahoma diocese’s bishop was unaware of the “disturbing tweet” that had come from the diocese.


He suitably thanked the diocese when it deleted the offending tweet, saying, “Our account has apparently been hacked and an unauthorized tweet sent out about Pope Francis. We are working to secure our account,” though he seemed dubious that this was a genuine hacking even if it was a hijacking of sorts.

Commenting that “the schism of the @DioceseofTulsa last just a few hours”, he added that “tears for a ‘para-schismatic’ US Catholic[ism]. are basically a problem of nutty social media handlers” and it was time for “a big cleanup”.

Face value

He noted also that the New York State Diocese of Syracuse had also tweeted oddly that night, taking on face value spurious claims by President Trump – seemingly acting off claims from online media sites such as the alt-right Breitbart rather than based on intelligence from US intelligence agencies – that his phones in Trump Tower  had been tapped ahead of November’s election by President Barrack Obama.

Wondering who was “hacking” Syracuse’s Twitter account, he said, “about the recent ‘hackings’ of Catholic diocese accounts: there is an ecclesiology of social media vastly underestimated by Church leaders”.

“Who believes that these strange Catholic tweets are hackings and not tweets coming from authorised personnel with a bad sense of the Church,” he asked, retweeting someone else’s claim that he had received an email from ‘Priests for Life’ asking for support for President Trump, and papal biographer Austen Ivereigh’s response to a tweet from Breitbart Vatican correspondent Thomas D. Williams challenging an article by Ivereigh distinguishing between Pope Francis and the current American President.

“As @Pontifex calls for bridge-building,” Williams had said, “@austeni insists on building WALL between Pope and @POTUS.”

Faggioli’s definitely not for everyone, but he’s an author definitely worth engaging with for all that, and in light of political developments in the US, it’s well worth reading his article ‘Teaching American Catholicism on a green card’, in which he explains how, after living in the US since 2008, the early days of the Trump presidency have changed how he sees the American Church, as well as his duties as a theologian.

It’s a fascinating and in some ways terrifying take on what he describes as a “mutation” within American Catholicism, one which he fears has neutralised Catholicism’s historical capacity to act as an antidote to American exceptionalism and nationalism.

Much of this, of course, has seen expression in opposition to Pope Francis – just as Britain has seen a vocal if small-scale blooming of vocal Catholics who scorn the Pope while championing English nationalism under a British guise.

It leaves Michael Sean Winters’ enlightening and perceptive piece claiming the “debate on Amoris Laetita is over” looking ludicrously optimistic.

He may be right about the mainstream Catholic media, but in the margins the war will continue, with opponents of the Pope continuing to challenge the Church’s visible source of unity, claiming to do so on behalf of the papacy and of unity.