Vatican Cautions Against ‘Social Media Divide’

News: World News
by William Mahoney, Ph.D.  •  •  May 30, 2023   

Critics question the timing

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VATICAN CITY ( - The Vatican is urging Christians to 'weave relationships' on social media and avoid what it calls "social media divide" months after Pope Francis challenged his critics to criticize people to their faces.

On Sunday, the Vatican Dicastery for Communication published a piece titled "Towards Full Presence: A Pastoral Reflection on Engagement with Social Media" to address some of the main questions regarding how Christians should behave on social media.

According to the document, the reflections are "not meant to be precise 'guidelines' for pastoral ministry in this area," but rather are meant "to promote a common reflection about our digital experiences, encouraging both individuals and communities to take a creative and constructive approach that can foster a culture of neighborliness."

Be 'Reflective, Active and Synodal'

TFP encourages social media users not to be reactive by falling into "the digital traps hidden in content that is intentionally designed to sow conflict among users by causing outrage or emotional reactions."

Instead, the document encourages social media users to be reflective, active and synodal. 

"We can all fall into the temptation of looking for the 'speck in the eye' of our brothers and sisters (Mt 7:3) by making public accusations on social media, stirring up divisions within the Church community or arguing about who among us is the greatest, as the first disciples did (Lk 9:46)," explains TFP. 

"The problem of polemical and superficial, and thus divisive, communication is particularly worrying when it comes from Church leadership: bishops, pastors, and prominent lay leaders. These not only cause division in the community but also give permission and legitimacy for others likewise to promote similar type[s] of communication," the document continues.

The Vortex: The Final Outcome

TFP then discusses what it deems a "global collaborative effort" for countering social media divide, insisting society must learn to act together as a community and not as individuals.

"Not so much as 'individual influencers,' but as 'weavers of communion': pooling our talents and skills, sharing knowledge and contributions," the document recommends. 

"For this reason, Jesus sent out the disciples 'two by two' (cf. Mk 6:7), so that by walking together we can reveal, also on social media, the synodal face of the Church," the section concludes. 

A Vatican Reaction to Criticism of Pope Francis?

Some outlets are suggesting TFP is the Vatican's attempt to crack down on criticizing Pope Francis. 

For example, on Tuesday, RedState, a politically conservative news source and blog, published an article titled "Vatican Demands Bishops Stop Criticizing Pope Francis on Social Media." 

TFP never explicitly demands bishops stop criticizing Pope Francis on social media, but the RedState article points to comments the pontiff made in January and questions the timing of the Vatican document. 

Criticisms ought to be made 'to our faces because that's how we all grow.'

Pope Francis was responding to criticism he had received, especially through books and documents, which Vatican News claimed were circulated among cardinals under pseudonyms. 

The pontiff explained he thought criticisms are "a bit annoying" but added, "I prefer them, because it means there is freedom of speech."

He then stressed that criticisms ought to be made "to our faces because that's how we all grow."

TFP is currently headed by Paolo Ruffini, whom Pope Francis appointed in 2018. Mr. Ruffini is the first layperson to head a major department at the Vatican.

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