Pope Francis Goes Digital, Reforms PR
Pope Francis is now pushing prayer apps and social media: “Pope widens digital presence with new prayer app profile.” The Click to Pray app now has a special Pope Francis button, allowing Pope Francis to share his prayers for “the mission of the Church.” No details were provided. Social media has become a papal priority. This is natural, since social media are great for disinformation (Social Media and Fake News).
Pope Francis has apparently been on Twitter since 2012. Unlike Donald Trump, he has not learned to tweet for himself. The pope claims almost 18 million followers just in English. CRUX did not report his total followers. Given that there are about 1,100 million Catholics worldwide, less than 2% are following him. I suspect that exceedingly few non-Catholics are.
CRUX reports “Going digital was also an aim of Francis’s communications reform efforts, which is focused not only on streamlining the Vatican’s various communications entities, but increasing their presence on different multimedia platforms.”
During his papacy, much of Pope Francis’ attention has been given to Vatican “communications” - their PR and propaganda wing. Early on, he hired Greg Burke away from Fox News as his personal representative. Recently, after a string of scandals and embarrassments, Pope Francis let him go (here).
Far from streamlining his communications organization, Pope Francis expanded it, promoting several people from Vatican radio. Needless to say, Vatican radio is not a digital platform. Furthermore, it has long been ineffective. Ineffectiveness has been a hallmark of this papacy.
John Allen (here) describes the changes, and claims certain conditions are required for success. Among them: “will the Vatican’s communications experts have a seat at the table when the sausage is ground, helping decision-makers, and ultimately the pope himself, consider the likely reception of a decision before it’s made?” If Allen is correct, failure is pre-ordained.
Since the start of his papacy, Francis has been far more involved in managing Vatican PR than in resolving the Church’s child abuse problem - or any other substantive issue. He seems to view the abuse crisis primarily as a PR problem. The upcoming abuse “summit” will no doubt continue this policy.