For six centuries, the leaders of the Catholic church have died in office. One old man after the other, called to Glory after a lifetime of good deeds and years of trolling the streets of Vatican City in the Popemobile. The last pope to abdicate was Pope Gregory XII in 1414 in an effort to end The Great Schism. In a religion that prides itself on the maintenance of tradition, it’s no wonder that Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is causing controversy.
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I was raised eating rolls and catfish on Wednesday nights as a Southern Baptist. I also wore my fair share of plaid skirts and knee socks at Catholic school. My senior year of high school I even won the Theology Award. I guess after four years of citing the Catechism and saying Hail Marys my teachers didn’t suspect a thing.
For the last few months of his tenure as pope, Benedict has tried to connect with his Catholic audience in a way that Gregory (or his bare-footed, grimy-teethed, early modern peasant constituents) could never have imagined, through social media.
Benedict, or, more familiar to his 1,621, 306 (make that 1,621,307) Twitter followers, @Pontifex, was the first pope to venture into the brave new world of social media. So it’s not surprising that his resignation is sending waves across the web.
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Online comedians have had a pretty good time poking fun at Benedict’s resignation. Take, for example, the Onion’s headline, “Pope Connects with Youth, Joins Twitter, Denounces Catholicism.” More serious reactions range from the grateful, to the angry, to the dismayed. Many accuse Benedict of covering up an enormous child sex abuse scandal. All can be found on Twitter.
What can’t be found on Twitter, however, are the now-former pope’s tweets. The Vatican has deleted all of Benedict’s 140-character musings and removed his name and image from the @Pontifex account.
Perhaps the next pope with be as tech-savvy as the 89-year-old Benedict has been during the last four months. Until the College of Cardinals chooses another leader, we’ll have to do without connecting with the head of the Catholic church through social media. In the meantime, you’re welcome to bestow your 140 characters (or less) on more traditional forms of spiritual communication.
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