D.C. cardinal: New pope must be master of social media

While not revealing his choice for the 267th occupant of the Chair of Saint Peter, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said that whoever is chosen as the next pope must be conversant in social media as well as the gospel to lead today’s global Catholic Church.

The cardinal, who was set to depart for Rome Sunday evening, said the next pontiff “has to be able to get the message out using these modern means of communication,” and he twice referred social media platforms such as Twitter. Although present at the conclave that elected Pope John Paul II in 1978, the next conclave, which will gather after Pope Benedict XVI retires on the evening of February 28, will be Cardinal Wuerl’s first as a voting member.

The archbishop discounted rumors — reported in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper and elsewhere last week — that information contained in a “secret Vatican report” about suspected financial and moral improprieties inside the Vatican added pressure to Benedict’s surprise decision to resign.

“I am unaware of any of this,” Cardinal Wuerl told The Washington Times in an interview following his homily at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle.

“We also recognize there seems to be great imagination in the minds of those who are keeping us informed,” the archbishop said.

Cardinal Wuerl emphasized the need for the next pope to represent the Church’s message in a multi-platform world.

“Pope Benedict was already opening the doors to that,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “and I think of the number of cardinals, [including] European cardinals, who are engaged in [the] Web, have blogs and websites and Twitter. That’s no longer an American prerogative.”

Father James Martin, a Jesuit and an editor-at-large for America Magazine, said the next pope must be “someone who’s holy, can effectively preach the gospel and can do so in a variety of cultures. Those attributes far outstrip anything else.”

But understanding and using technology, Mr. Martin said, is “extremely important. Jesus used any and all media to communicate” with people, and a pope must preach “with an understanding of how people hear” the message.

“If Jesus could talk about the birds of the air,” Mr. Martin said, “I can tweet.”

Cardinal Wuerl told the Friday service that news of Benedict XVI’s retirement — the first abdication of a pontiff in nearly 600 years — “came to all of us as a great surprise, and in some ways as a shock.” On later reflection, he said, “the Holy Father’s action speaks to us of his greatness, and his ability to recognize the needs of the church and his own capabilities.”

The frail, 85-year-old German pope blamed his failing health in the face of the giant burdens of overseeing a global organization as the main reason he was stepping down.

“Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” Benedict said in a statement released by the Vatican.

Asked if there were any particular concerns he was taking to Rome, Cardinal Wuerl expressed a desire to see that the church keep its message relevant to a new and fast-moving generation.

“Probably the most important aspect of my ministry, and I would project that into the ministry of the Holy Father, is bringing the gospel into the next generation,” he said. “We deal with so many young people today who are so busy, frenetically busy, that they don’t have the time to reflect on the rest of their existence, the spiritual part of their existence.”

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