One of the customs associated with a Papal visit is the granting of “plenary indulgences,” or special forgiveness of sins, to Catholics who turn out to see the Pope -- and according to a recent decision by the Vatican, that privilege now extends to people who witness the Papal visit virtually, via social media.
The decision comes as the Pope prepares to travel to Brazil for the World Youth Festival, an international event organized by the Catholic Church, from July 22-28. According to the Vatican’s Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, which oversees matters of penance and forgiveness, indulgences may be granted to faithful Catholics who follow the “rites and pious exercises” led by the Pope “through new social communication channels,” including for example the Papal Twitter account. To receive the indulgence, however, the participants must first confess their sins, pray, and attend Mass, all with the “requisite devotion.”
Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, explained to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “You don't obtain an indulgence like you get a coffee from a vending machine. It's not enough just to watch a Mass online or follow Pope Francis via live streaming on your iPad or by connecting to Pope2You.net. These are just devices. What really counts is that the Tweet that the Pope will send from Brazil or the photos from World Youth Day produce genuine spiritual fruit in the heart of the person.”
Social media is just the latest in a series of technological changes that have prompted the Vatican to revise the rules for plenary indulgences. Previously, faithful Catholics could receive plenary indulgences by receiving the Pope’s blessing via a TV or radio broadcast of his Urbi et Orbi benediction on Christmas and Easter.