Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
Reports of Pope Francis getting a Facebook profile anytime “soon” have been greatly exaggerated. The Register has confirmed with a senior Vatican official that the Vatican’s social communications team has no immediate plans to bring the Pope to the world’s largest social media site, although it’s not outside the realm of possibility for the distant future.
A Vatican Insider report from the Italian daily La Stampa stoked excitement that Pope Francis would “soon” have his own official Facebook page. The report claimed that a Curia source told Vatican Insider that the plans for the papal Facebook were in the “final stages” with just some “some final technical aspects” that needed to be resolved before the page was made “visible to the public.” It said the “Vatican’s tech experts are working on the page,” and were busy trying to find ways to prevent people from posting “offensive or inappropriate messages.”
However, the Register contacted a senior Vatican official on the Pope’s communications team, who said the Vatican Insider report is not accurate.
“I’m certainly not aware of any attempt to launch a Facebook page for Pope Francis at the moment,” he said. “It’s a matter we’ve given consideration, but certainly there are no plans to do it in the immediate future.”
The Holy Father already has a presence on social media in 9 languages (including Latin) with more than 12 million followers on Twitter. Re-tweets of the Pope Francis’ 140 characters-or-fewer messages reach an estimated 60 million people all over the globe. Pope Benedict XVI, a vocal advocate of the Church being on the front lines of social media, established the papal Twitter @Pontifex on Dec. 12, 2012. At the time of his abdication (11 weeks later) Benedict left the papal twitter with 3 million followers, having sent 39 tweets. In nearly one year as Pope, Francis has sent out 275 tweets (in English), building on his predecessor’s proven success in preaching the Gospel in the digital age.
Having an official Facebook profile could put the Pope in direct contact with Facebook’s more than 1.2 billion users. Excluding those with fake profiles, a sizeable audience of the world’s 7 billion population is part of the social media giant.
The senior Vatican communications official (who asked that he remain unnamed) said his team may develop a Facebook profile for the Pope sometime down the road in the future, but those plans are still a long ways off from ever being realized. Presently “there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved” first, and even so, the Vatican’s communications team would have to conduct a test-run to preview how an official page could work for the Holy Father before anything went operational.
He also pointed out that there’s plenty of confusion out there on Facebook with multiple unofficial profiles of Pope Francis that would have to be resolved. At least two unofficial Pope Francis Facebook pages have more than a million fans split between them, and a third has more than 250,000 fans alone.
“It’s not excluded” from the realm of possibility, the Vatican official said. “There are just no immediate plans for making it operative.”
He added, “If and when the Vatican decides to do it, we’ll have to make sure people know which [profile] is the real one.”