Prior to the Reformation, religious leaders limited much of their day-to-day contact to sitting monarchs and other religious higher-ups. They did not speak extensively with the everyday people. After the Reformation, however, the emphasis shifted to including the masses in the everyday affairs of the faith and making religious leaders accessible to their proverbial flocks. This accessibility has taken a new path today with the advent of social networking. Thanks to sites like Twitter you can now follow and connect with church leaders like Monsignor Richard Madders and other priests in the Roman Catholic Church.
Social Media and Building Trust
Pope Francis famously cleared the path for the priesthood using social networking to appeal to the masses. The pope maintains an active presence online and regularly updates his Twitter feed. People can tweet to the pope and even get a response from the pontiff personally. This two-way communication has broken down barriers that once put people on edge about the Church.
Parish priests also now regularly use social networking to reach out to their parish and others who want to know more about the faith. Given the tumultuous scandal that afflicted the Church in recent years, many people have left the faith, vowing never to return because of a significant lack of trust in parish priests. These social networking posts, however, seek to heal and regain the trust of people who perhaps have been victimized or felt betrayed. Priests increasingly are being advised to be positive and honest about the Church’s response to the scandal as well as its vision for the future.
Another important and positive consequence of parish priests being on social networking sites involves showing people that priests are themselves everyday people just like everyone else. It is important that the Church breaks down the aura of mystery that once surrounded the priesthood. People need to see that priests get up everyday, eat breakfast, and carry out a normal routine much like everyone else.
When people see what priests do, from reciting the Litany of the hours to performing everyday Masses, they become more at ease with church leaders whom they once deemed as overly austere and even a bit pompous. Twitter posts that show priests enjoying vacations, eating dinner, reading the newspaper, going to the movies, and taking on other everyday routines build a level of simpatico with people who otherwise may never have considered that their parish priests by and large are just like them.
Like Pope Francis’ own accounts, priests also have the opportunity to engage people beyond the confessional and in a way that is much less formal. They can tweet back, respond to questions and concerns, and even share jokes with people who may never have approached them at the church building or elsewhere in public.
Social networking is itself a bit of a reformation in the way the Church engages the public. People can witness priests as everyday people like themselves.