BRAINTREE — For someone with more than 5,000 followers on Twitter, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, has been a rather tepid tweeter.
His aides tweet his weekly blog entries, but aside from his 2011 trip to World Youth Day in Madrid, when he was especially focused on engaging youth, @CardinalSean has been a quiet man in the twittersphere. One person who tried to get into a direct conversation with him last July about various church policies did not get much satisfaction.
“Cardinal Sean doesn’t personally monitor this account at this time,” came the reply.
But on Thursday, the Archdiocese of Boston announced a change.
“He wants to ramp it up,” said Terrence C. Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese.
For the next month, O’Malley is planning to Tweet regularly with the assistance of his aides to mark the beginning of the Year of Faith: Pope Benedict XVI’s effort to initiate a “new evangelization” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which modernized the church in the early- to mid-1960s. The cardinal will also use Twitter in the final weeks before Election Day to fight against a state ballot question that would legalize doctor-assisted suicide.
“It’s very important for us particularly to try and reach young people,” O’Malley told reporters at the archdiocesan headquarters Thursday after saying a noon Mass.
“We know they are not reading newspapers the same way they were in the past, so this is the medium we need to use for the Gospel to be connected with our young Catholics.”
O’Malley, wearing his red cardinal’s hat and the brown habit of a Capuchin friar, sat at a bare conference table before a MacBook Pro and typed the message prepared and printed out in advance for him by his aides: “Thank you to all who attended the opening Mass for the Year of Faith at the Pastoral Center’s Bethany Chapel this afternoon.”
The typing was a bit laborious. The cardinal is fluent in Spanish and is used to his Spanish keyboard, aides explained.
“Just hit tweet, and you’re good,” advised Scot Landry, the archdiocese’s secretary for Catholic media.
That was the first of many tweets from @cardinalsean Thursday. Many of his fans responded enthusiastically to his plea to help him gain followers.
“Yo, followers: follow @CardinalSean, now!” tweeted Sam Rocha, a writer and musician who teaches at the University of North Dakota, according to a bio on his website.
“@CardinalSean Mozel tov. :),” wrote Janelle Peters, who identifies herself as a graduate student at Emory University.
But not everyone.
“If @CardinalSean wants to get all political this election, his church should pay taxes,” wrote Melissa B., a self-described “gunslinging Democratic feminist” from Boston.
O’Malley, who owns both an iPad and an iPhone, is proud of his early ventures into new media; in 2006, he became the first cardinal to start his own blog during a trip to Rome in 2006. It was lively, informal, and filled with funny asides.
Six years later, it remains a fascinating window into the life of a cardinal, but its style is significantly more subdued.
Asked whether he plans to respond to questions, the cardinal replied with a smile, “Yes, not too many. I don’t have too much time to answer too many questions.”
Aides said they plan to gather the questions and comments he receives and videotape the cardinal’s responses, which they will tweet.