Catholics and non-Catholics alike eagerly awaited the publication of Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Released April 8th at noon Vatican time, the 256-page document discusses issues faced by contemporary families and features recommendations for priests for readmitting “divorced and remarried” church members who have not received annulments to the sacrament of Communion. Like most church documents, Amoris Laetitia draws from the Bible, Church history, theology, and Catholic social teachings. While Amoris Laetitia is more straightforward than other Papal documents, delving into its contents is still a time consuming exercise.
This may be why the Papal Twitter account, @Pontifex, has been tweeting brief messages about the relationship of the family to society since the document’s release.
The content of the Papal tweets reflects the document’s overall message: support for families in a world lacking in universal economic and social justice “inspired by the message of love and tenderness.” This series of tweets, similar to those following the release of the environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ in May 2015, while certainly rooted in Catholic theology and social teachings, appeal to the universality of the needs of human families. In doing so, @Pontifex presents both an abridged version of Amoris Laetitia, as well as a version of his message without any controversial elements.
While the tweets stress universality, in reality, Amoris Laetitia regularly alludes to diversity and social issues that are divisive in the church. The document speaks of the need for the global Church to “seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its tradition and local needs.” While echoing Francis’ common theme of economic justice as a prerequisite for social justice, Amoris Laetitia also revisits annulments, contains a lukewarm yet conditional nod to feminism, and expresses tolerance of (but not marriage equality for) LGBTQ persons. It is, in short, a sophisticated theological work with layers of nuance not easily captured in 140 character bursts.
That being said, expressing his position in universal tweets is in keeping with Francis’ Papacy overall. While some media outlets have speculated that his decision to participate in social media may be to appeal to millennials, a more accurate interpretation may be that the Papal Twitter account is an accessible platform for expressing public policy to the Church and the world at large. A Pope known for being well-liked by Catholics, people of other religious traditions, and the so-called religious “nones,” Francis seems to know what his social media followers want and need to hear, leaving behind the nuance and details present in the full Exhortation issued by the church.
Amoris Laetitia won’t appease liberals inside and outside of the church who hope for definitive statements on issues like homosexuality and women’s rights, and it has angered some traditional Catholics who view the document as a major deviation from Church doctrine. However, neither group is Francis’ target audience. Instead, the Pope wants the core of his message to resonate beyond the confines of the Catholic Church. This goal is reflected in the Papal tweets related to Amoris Laetitia. In drawing on cross-cultural values like the importance of family and love, these Papal tweets contain a generic message most people will find non-controversial. With over 9 million Twitter followers, Pope Francis hopes to share his message about the plight of the family in the modern world 140 characters at a time.
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