Over the last couple of days, the usual suspects in the media are running (misrepresenting) a story that roughly boils down to “The Vatican said that if you follow the Pope on Twitter, you’ll receive a Get-Out-Of-Hell Free Card”.

Oh bother….

Get Out Of Hell Free Card
What the media imagines is probably something close to this…


Not wanting to foil anybody’s plans to get into Heaven on a technicality, but neither the Catholic Church nor Pope Francis is trying to get more followers on Twitter than Justin Beiber by offering to sneak folks into Heaven’s Gates when St. Peter is looking away.

I suspect the media is not purposefully trying to misrepresent Church teaching or the actual decree issued by the Vatican. Instead I simply think that large publications and websites would be better served hiring writers to write about Catholicism who actually, you know, understand Catholicism.

There are two fundamental problems with these headlines. Number 1, no such thing was offered, and number 2, even if it was an indulged act to retweet the Pope, Indulgences simply do not work like the media perceived them to work.

So what are indulgences? The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1471 teaches:

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”

Basically, in layman’s terms, that means that by performing certain acts or saying certain prayers, with a heart full of contrition and love for God, with no attachment to sin, out of deep love for the Lord, one can by the Grace of the Cross, “make up for” and “work off” some or all of the punishment for sin. Kind of like when you were a kid how your Dad, because he had the authority and kindness to do so, would let you be ungrounded a day early if you washed the car and cut the grass.

Additionally, Indulgences cannot be obtained by the sheer acts alone, or by saying certain prayers as if they were magic spells. They are predicated on the internal disposition of the person and meeting the 3 prerequisites: 1)Sacramental Confession 2) Holy Communion 3) Prayer for the intention of the Holy Father, all to be performed within days of each other if not at the same time.

“You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

So what did the Vatican actually say that got the misinformed secular media into such a tizzy? Nothing new really… In a decree issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary granting special indulgences tied to participation in the 23rd World Youth Day in Rio, the special indulgences tied to the event were extended to those who lack the means and simply can’t make it to Rio, but instead participate whole-heartedly, but remotely using TV, Radio, and other forms of Media.

The decree stated:

“The faithful legitimately impeded, are able to obtain ‘ Plenary Indulgence if, by complying with the usual spiritual, sacramental and prayer, with the purpose of filial submission to the Roman Pontiff, to participate spiritually in the sacred functions in certain days, provided follow these same rites and pious exercises while performing, or via television and radio, always with due devotion, through the new means of social communication”

So there you have it folks. Retweeting @Pontifex is not going to get you out of Hell, or Purgatory, despite what the media reports (or may be secretly hoping). So back to the drawing board in searching out a technicality that will get us into Heaven.

For those interested in learning what acts are officially indulged, you can read the awesomely titled Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, or in English, the Enchiridion of Indulgences or in The Raccolta

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