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Vatican is not offering indulgences for following the Pope on Twitter

Pope FrancisLess than a year after Pope Benedict XVI first got a Twitter account, rumors began circulating that the Vatican was now offering indulgences through the social media network.

The Vatican announced Wednesday that the papal court that handles the forgiveness of sins will now offer “indulgences” — or blessings that reduce the time Catholics believe they will spend in purgatory after the confession of their sins — to those following the Pope’s tweets. At least that’s what The Guardian reported.

But according to CNNthe story was blown out of proportion. The original document from the Vatican reveals that those who are unable to attend the upcoming Catholic World Youth Day in person can tune in “via television and radio, always with due devotion, through the new means of social communication.”

The new decree allows those attending remotely to receive indulgences, but they must “follow these same rites and pious exercises” as those physically in attendance.

One Vatican official also stressed that getting an indulgence isn’t as easy as clicking the “follow” button.

“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.

The story originally became Twitter-focused after a Guardian source told the news organization that the Vatican’s definition of “social communication” included the micro-blogging site.

“That includes following Twitter,” a source at the penitentiary told The Guardian. “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the Internet.”

Indulgences are controversial within the church, as they were sold for money during the late medieval period. They are normally granted to those who carry out pious tasks, such as climbing the Sacred Steps in Rome.

Besides presences on Facebook and Twitter, the Vatican recently released a smartphone app for Catholic news and reportedly plans to begin using Pinterest soon.

UPDATE: This story originally reported that the Vatican was giving indulgences for following the Pope on Twitter, but this is inaccurate.

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