Catholics who have sinned and wish to reconcile their misbehaviors know that going to confession is one way to clean the slate and start over. However, with the rise of the internet and technology in general, the Vatican also is making its own advancements in how it reaches the Catholic community.
Pope Francis is now offering “indulgences,” or remissions of temporal punishments, to those who follow him and his news on Twitter. Whether this is an attempt to get more media attention, as some have argued, or is actually a way the Vatican feels it can get people closer to God, this is quite an announcement that depicts just how the church is evolving to keep up with the millennial generation.
This news has come in advance of World Youth Day, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro this year and is an event at which millions will attend to have their chance to seek indulgences from the pope. The Vatican then realized that not everyone could make it out to Brazil. In order to level the playing field, the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary decided to extend indulgences to those who follow the happenings of the event through television, radio, and social media sites, including Pope Francis’ Twitter account.
What will these indulgences translate to in the afterlife? A shorter sentence in purgatory. For Catholics looking at ways to speed up the process of arriving to paradise, this seems like a pretty good compromise.
However, before those who prefer more traditional practices complain, the church has made it clear that those seeking indulgences will have to put in a little more old-fashioned effort by confessing and attending mass.
"You can't obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine," Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli stipulated.
Upon reading headlines stating that Pope Francis would be handing out indulgences to anyone who follows him on Twitter, one could certainly be misled and believe the process had become laughably simplified. In reality, though, allowing people to use social media as a tool by which one can seek indulgences is not necessarily replacing the old practices of the Catholic Church but is instead supplementing them.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that one-third of adults under the age of 30 do not have any religious affiliations and the number of people who identify with a religion continues to decline.
Given this trend, no matter what naysayers argue about the Vatican’s motives, incorporating technology into Catholicism is a smart move that perhaps may not bring in new followers or make old ones return, but will perhaps help keep its current following engaged.
What this ultimately means for the legitimacy of the church is up to Catholics to decide.