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July 17, 2013 11:23 AM Holy Twitter

By Ed Kilgore

New York Times columnist (and former Washington Monthly editor back in the day) Joe Nocera penned a self-consciously Cranky Old Journalist piece about Twitter today that transcended the usual limits of the genre by acknowledging legitimate and valuable usages for the medium before adjudging it as a net negative.

But I don’t know if Nocera had heard this news (via The Guardian’s Tom Kington) before weighing the benefits and costs of participating in the Twitterverse:

In its latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering “indulgences” to followers of Pope Francis’ tweets.

Now there’s a benefit you probably can’t get from perusing dead-tree op-ed pages: reduced penance in the afterlife for those pesky venial sins!

Looking at it a bit more closely, this isn’t a Cool Pope gimmick, but more a jesuitical extension of the long-standing practice of offering indulgences to pilgrims. If attending Catholic Youth Day in Brazil (the example cited by the Vatican) can earn you an indulgence, why not following the Pope’s tweets from the event, or better yet, streaming it online?

Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media.
“That includes following Twitter,” said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.”

Aside from indulgences and all, following Pope Francis gives the pontiff a fighting chance of catching up with Kim Kardashian and her 18 million followers. And that’s a holy mission indeed.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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