Despite his worldwide reputation as the Cool Pope—and his millions of Twitter and Instagram followers—Pope Francis is apparently deeply wary of Catholic nuns using social media. In a document released last week, which focused on women's contemplative life, he warns nuns that social media could "become occasions for wasting time" or be used as an escape from their religious duties.
"In our society," the pope wrote, "the digital culture has a decisive influence in shaping our thoughts and the way we relate to the world."
Sister Catherine Wybourne is a Benedictine nun at Holy Trinity Monastery in Herefordshire, England, who goes by the moniker Digitalnun. More than 17,000 people follow her on Twitter. This morning, she subtly responded to the pope's message in a blog, saying, "We all know the difference between a creative use of the internet/Social Media and what I'd call sheer consumerism." She also said that she and her sisters at the monastery always pray before going online, while online, and after they get off, "because, as St Benedict says, every good work should be preceded by prayer; and if being online isn't inherently a good work, we must make it so."
Last year, she told The Telegraph, "Being cloistered doesn't mean that you have to have an enclosed mind, or an enclosed approach to things. We describe the internet as being the fourth wall of our cloister, and it's open to everybody."
Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, who is currently on the Nuns on the Bus Tour in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, tells Broadly that Pope Francis' overall stance on social media is that it should be used "to promote the voice of the impoverished person." Currently, he has 9.61 million followers on Twitter and 2.8 million followers on Instagram.
His recent message, however, focused on contemplative sisters — those who are called to dedicate their lives to God by praying and being quiet. According to U.S. News, the number of nuns who have dedicated their lives to contemplation has fallen from 55,000 in 2000 to 43,000 in 2014.
"What he's telling them," Lacy explains, "is don't be getting into all this technology that's available to you because that may take you on a different road or out of your vocation."
Alternatively, apostolic sisters like Lacy are called to work "within the system, not adapting its values but bringing our values into the world," she says. That means they must use whatever tools are available to reach people.
"That's what Jesus did," Lacy says. "He walked to people where they were. He walked up to the taxpayers, he walked up to the common man, he met them where they were. Today, social media is where people are at. So we will use that tool to bring the message that we need a more inclusive culture."
Last week, organizers with Nuns on the Bus gathered to live-tweet Donald Trump's Republican National Convention speech. Lacy was among them.