PARIS—Three Latin words from the papal Twitter account announcing Pope Francis’s election were re-tweeted en masse as millions online congratulated the new pontiff, though some raised questions about his relationship with the former military dictatorship in his native Argentina.
In what is the first papacy starting in the Twitter age—Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, a year before the network was founded—it was only fitting that the Vatican would tweet the name of the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The message in Latin, “Habemus Papam Franciscum,” from the official papal account @pontifex, was sent Wednesday evening, soon after the first wisps of white smoke curled out the chimney of the Sistine Chapel to signify a new pope had been found.
Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first Latin American pontiff, and the inaugural tweet in his name had been retweeted about 80,000 times by Thursday morning. Benedict had started tweeting from the same account in December, though his messages were removed and archived on a Vatican website after he unexpectedly announced his resignation last month.
Papal tweet traffic peaked as Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announced to delighted throngs gathered in St. Peter’s Square that there was a new pope, with Twitter saying it saw some 130,000 tweets per minute related to the new pontiff.
That volume followed some seven million tweets during the day Wednesday ahead of the announcement. Immediately afterward, messages of congratulations flooded in from across the globe.
“I want to say hello and express my congratulations,” Argentine President Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) wrote in a message in Spanish that she tweeted to the new pope.
“I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security, and dignity for our fellow human beings,” US President Barack Obama (@BarackObama) said on his Twitter account.
The United States and Argentina were the top two countries tweeting about the pope, accounting for 22 percent and 19 percent respectively of traffic, according to the social media analytics firm Topsy.
Photos of Bergoglio in his pre-papal days quickly circulated online, with many Twitter users posting pictures of him apparently cleaning and washing the feet of people suffering from AIDS.
On Facebook, too, news of Bergoglio’s election dominated discussions. According to Facebook, all of the most mentioned terms on the social network Wednesday night were pope-related, with “Pope” and “Jorge Bergoglio” topping the list.
But other social media users questioned the new pontiff’s relationship to the brutal military dictatorship that led Argentina after a 1976 coup until 1983.
“The Catholic church just keeps giving fodder for controversy. Argentine dictatorship, Catholic church, Bergoglio. Press the google button,” wrote a Twitter user posting from the account @DiggsWayne.
Many twitter users posted a photograph they claimed showed a younger Bergoglio giving communion to the dictator Jorge Videla in Buenos Aires in 1990.
However, there is nothing to support the assertion that the priest in the photograph, visible only from behind, is Bergoglio and at the time he was working in Cordoba, some 700 kilometers (430 miles) away.
This being the age of Twitter, the historic election of the pope also attracted the usual array of snarky remarks and comments from Internet wags.
A fake Twitter account, @JMBergoglio, active since long before his election, was suspended—though not before it garnered about 130,000 followers.
A hastily created account began tweeting messages purportedly from a seagull on Wednesday, after the world’s media saw a bird perched atop the Sistine chimney.
“Already making plans to fly down to Argentina to see what their Cheetos are like,” someone tweeted from the gull account @SistineSeagull, which has attracted almost 9,000 followers.