"Tweetin' Nuns" sounds like a terrible '60s sitcom, but make no mistake, it's an actual thing. Nowadays just about everyone from your dentist to ISIS (don't search that, if you ever want to fly again) is on Twitter. So it would stand to reason that some enterprising men and women of the cloth would take to the social media outlet to help spread the word of God. But the Pope (whose own Twitter game is on point) isn't 100% sure he approves of all this nun-sense. In a document entitled Vultum Dei Quaerere (Seeking the Face of God), his Pope-ness acknowledges the inherent benefits of social media in spreading the gospel, but also warns women of God against the dangers of wasting time online.
The Pope has a complicated relationship with social media. In the past, he has urged families to set their smartphones and iPads aside and learn to communicate face-to-face again. He has also chided millennials and children for spending too much time in front of video games and not devoting enough time to "things that matter." At the same time, Pope Francis boasts 9.6 million Twitter followers, and has effectively used the medium to convey thoughts on mass shootings, homosexuality, and the Church's role in the world today. We don't have any concrete numbers on how much time Pope Francis spends playing Pokemon Go (though we bet he's got an Arceus), but one would hope that he's practicing what he preaches.
Happy Feast Day to all the Jameses in my family (and community!) pic.twitter.com/lD0EYobZDZ— Sister Anne (@nunblogger) July 25, 2016
A large part of the reason why Pope Francis used the Vultum Dei Quaerere to tacitly (if haltingly) encourage a limited amount of social media usage among Orders is because of their dwindling numbers. Vatican officials said this week that worldwide numbers of nuns have plummeted in the past decade, with the most recent number standing around 43,000. Pope Francis sees sites like Twitter as a good way to both educate and encourage potential future sisters, while also allowing the smaller number of current ones to reach a larger audience. In that last regard, some of them have been surprisingly successful.
Take, for example, Sister Anne who uses her Twitter feed to keep her 20,000+ followers informed about the beauty inherent in the Church, as well as posing thought provoking questions. Also: she sings. Then there is Sr. Catherine Wybourne, who tweets under the oddly delightful handle "DigitalNun." Between her Twitter feed (boasting over 17,000 followers) and her blog, she has developed a social media presence remarkably similar to Pope Francis himself, sending out thoughts and prayers for the victims of tragedies, offering up daily devotionals and offering followers comfort and reflection.
Praying for all tweeps, esp the peoples of Mali and South Sudan in their present need, and all who have asked our prayers. #prayer
— Sr CatherineWybourne (@Digitalnun) July 21, 2016
Being a servant of God is not generally looked upon as a particularly "fun" time. Deeply fulfilling, to be sure, but nuns in particular are known for leading austere, cloistered lives, devoid of the daily distractions the rest of us consider entertainment. "That's not entirely true," you're probably saying right now. "They can have plenty of fun!" Well, sure, they can. But take a moment to Google "nuns having fun," and see just how many (non Rule 34) results you don't come up with. Which is all just a long way of pointing out that, while I'm sure the Pope feels like his warning is needed—and who knows, maybe there are rampant examples of nuns getting hooked on Totally Accurate Battle Simulator—I suspect that nuns as a group tend to be pretty severely self-regulating. In fact, I would almost fear that they might err too far towards caution, and fail to realize social media's full power as a way of getting their message out to large groups of people who they might otherwise never encounter. But you know what they say: old habits die hard.