Spreading A Pontiff's Message In The Digital Age
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Roman Catholic Church announces the choice of a new pope with white smoke, but they also communicate over more modern platforms - the Pope especially, who speaks to about 21 million followers directly with his Twitter following. Michael J. O'Loughlin, a national reporter of all things Catholic for Crux, has a new book in which he shares many of those tweets and examines Pope Francis as a social platform communicator just before the Pope makes his first visit to the United States. His new book - "The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution In 140 Characters." Michael J. O'Loughlin joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.
MICHAEL J. O'LOUGHLIN: Thanks, Scott, nice to be here.
SIMON: Pope Francis's Twitter account, for those who don't know it, is @Pontifex - P-O-N-T-I-F-E-X. Does he write them himself?
O'LOUGHLIN: That was some of the research I was wondering because this pope has admitted that he doesn't know how to use a computer. And so I asked around and I thought...
SIMON: He faxes his bishops, right?
O'LOUGHLIN: He faxes his bishops. He's certainly not in tune with the latest technology personally. But I was told that he has a small handful of advisers. Pope Francis tells them which themes and messages he wants communicated on social media. And they write out the messages in either Spanish or Italian and bring those sheets of paper to him, and Pope Francis signs off on every tweet.
SIMON: You identify some of the - as you see them - the main themes in his tweets and in many ways they - I think it's fair to say - might reflect the main themes of his papacy and even his person. Mercy is one, and I'll read a tweet - God's forgiveness is stronger than any sin. How does the pope view the value of mercy?
O'LOUGHLIN: Yeah, I think that Pope Francis is the pope of mercy. He's someone who doesn't show any willingness or desire to change the rules necessarily, but he knows that life is messy, that it doesn't always fit into the neat rubric that Catholicism demands. You know, he's described the church as a field hospital. When you're out there in battle, you don't ask how people got hurt or how their cholesterol is. You tend to their wounds, and you make them whole again. And that's really in his approach to all of Catholicism and that displays itself in his messages about mercy.
SIMON: Much has been made particularly in recent weeks since his encyclical of the pope's belief and brand of environmentalism. Another tweet - the pope says, take care of God's creation, but above all, take care of people in need. So we always talk about issues. With the pope, it's not only an issue, but a view of life, isn't it?
O'LOUGHLIN: Oh, sure. This is a pope who really wants to expand what it means to be a pro-life Catholic. And he's put the environment square in the middle of that. He talks about the negative effects that climate change and environmental degradation will have on the poor, that people living in developing nations won't be able to respond as quickly or effectively as wealthier nations, so it's up to those who can to provide some solutions and protections for the poor. He famously said pretty early on in his pontificate that the church had become obsessed with issues of abortion and gay marriage, and he really wanted to expand what it meant to be a Catholic in public life. And he's taken to Twitter to do that. Like you mentioned, all these tweets about, you know, the environment, about the economy, mercy suffering - these are real-life issues for Pope Francis, and he's really trying to kind of steer the ship back to a place where the full spectrum of Catholic teaching really is visible.
SIMON: Mr. O'Loughlin, I know you're a reporter, but might I ask, are you also a practicing Catholic?
O'LOUGHLIN: I am.
SIMON: I wonder how these tweets have affected you. Does this direct communication make you feel closer to Francis?
O'LOUGHLIN: Yeah, they do in a way. I feel like he's someone I know even though I haven't quite met him yet. And I think a lot of other Catholics who follow him, and a lot of people who probably will never meet him, do feel like they have almost a sort of friend that they're close to who just happens to be leading the Catholic Church.
SIMON: Michael J. O'Loughlin - his book, "The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution In 140 Characters," is out now. Mr. O'Loughlin, thanks so much for being with us.
O'LOUGHLIN: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.