It could have been the tweet of the century.
But Pope Benedict decided not to announce his resignation on Twitter, which he joined last year in a foray into social media that has reaped uncertain spiritual returns and could be curtailed by his successor.
Obviously keen to avoid any leak of his resignation - which would have been a risk as his tweets are typed up by an aide - the pope announced it in person, in Latin, to a restricted group of cardinals. The video was then given to the world’s media.
News of the first pontiff to resign in seven centuries scorched through Twitter, generating 1.5 million comments in the first 36 hours, according to analytics firm Crimson Hexagon.
But of those, a third were negative, criticising the pope or the Roman Catholic Church, and 38 percent were jokes. Just 7 percent were positive, expressing concern for the pontiff or hope about the future.
“We are receiving tweets that I consider not worthy of a human person,” said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a Vatican office set up in the 1940s to address the flourishing film industry, but which under Benedict branched into Twitter, YouTube and smartphone download “The Pope App”.
An easy target of Internet “trolls”, the pope has come in for plenty of online abuse.
“It’s a problem,” Celli said in an interview in the marble-floored offices near St. Peter’s Basilica that house the communications hub. “When you are offending in a vulgar way, that is not worthy of a human being.”
Nevertheless, the 85-year-old was not “naive” in joining the micro-blogging site synonymous with instant news, irreverence and mob behaviour. “The idea of the Holy Father was simple: I want to be present where people are present,” Celli said.
There was no hint of the resignation in recent tweets, sent from a locked room in the Vatican from a computer kept especially for the purpose and fortified against possible hacks.