“I wanted it to have a bit of bite” when he was developing the account’s approach, he said, particularly in light of the scandals.
He made clear that he loves the Church, adding that “what you love most is also what you criticize,” he said. And along the way, “I hope that there’s a few well-aimed punches that land.”
“The lofty aim of satire is a corrective cultural form.”
Harris, who is studying creative writing, had been trying to think of a gimmick for a parody Twitter for some time when the inspiration for @VaticanGoogles struck him. Inspired by another popular account, “Aus Gov Just Googled” (referring to the Australian government), he initially tried to make a New Zealand version of the same.
With the framing of his posts as (hypothetical and humorous) Google searches from somewhere in Rome, “the setup is already done, the joke work is done with the name of the account, so then in the body of the tweet you’re cutting straight to the punch line.” But “Vatican Just Googled” isn’t all bite — Harris said he wants the platform to also function as “a celebration of the good things about the Church as well.”
Imagining Google searches in the voice of a pontiff or resident of Vatican City entails a sort of cast of characters, and so Harris’ project has taken on a sort of role-playing exercise as well.
“It’s a story” in some senses, he said. “It’s a world with a narrative and characters.”
“Stories are really important thing in today’s world in terms of evangelizing,” Harris reflected. “I think people listen to story, and so social media can be a way of telling stories.”
Some of the tweets are autobiographical — knowing Harris’ identity explains a couple of scattered New Zealand puns in retrospect — and in a sense, Harris sees himself tied up in the solution to the problems his satire showcases.
“Occasionally there’s tweets directed at myself. Some change in the Church is in my hands! Me, to be a better Catholic, to be a saint.”
A tweet pinned to the top of the @VaticanGoogles profile speaks to this:
Despite the “cesspool,” as Harris termed it, that social media can become, the online platform also serves as a tool for spreading good “if you curate it carefully.”
“The Church is alive, and a sign of that is the humor on Twitter.”
Catholics on social media are in a position “to highlight the richness of the faith, to highlight that it is reasonable to and possible to live a Catholic life,” as well as “to be real and to enjoy a joke.”
He also referenced stories he’s seen online from people who came to the Church in part by encountering Catholics on Twitter. “How that actually plays out in a person’s life exactly, I’m not sure, but you take them at their word. That’s a wonderful thing, to discover this world that’s not accessible to them in their daily life.”
“Humor has a place,” he said. “People who don’t listen to a sermon might be touched by the humor of a meme.”
The conspiracy surrounding his identity finally over, Harris said it’s something of a relief to have the curtain pulled back.
“It was getting a bit weird” to him, he observed.
“When you contacted me,” he laughed, “I was quite fine with that. It’s kind of funny, the sleuthing that went on.”
But regular followers need not fear: “I’ll just keep on with the same thing,” he said. “It’ll just be interesting to see how it develops.”
“I’ve got a couple of ideas in the pipeline,” he assured. “Looking forward to more laughs.”
Joe Slama is a freelance writer for Catholic News Agency.