Pope Francis and Tim Cook: Why is the Pontiff meeting tech giants?

instagramDespite much early excitement, this was not the Pope's first selfie. Nevertheless it marks the Vatican's ongoing effort to become more social media savvy.

Pope Francis' private meetings with tech giants over the last two weeks have caused a bit of speculation – the Pontiff has readily admitted he is a technology "dinosaur".

On Friday 15 January Francis sat down for 15 minutes with Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google's parent company Alphabet. Then last Friday the Holy Father met Apple CEO Tim Cook, again for a brief 15 minute chat. Both the conversations were private.

So what is this champion of the poor, a Pope who generally critiques capitalism and big business, doing meeting some of the most powerful and wealthy tech leaders in the world?

1. Tech-phobe to tech-friend?

One suggestion is the Pope is simply wanting to promote a tech-friendly image and these meetings are largely symbolic. Although Francis himself is far from tech-savvy he has called the internet a "gift from God" and recently used Google Hangouts to reach a younger audience.

"Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication," he said. "It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal."

Despite some rather lukewarm comments, he is the most influential world leader on Twitter according to the annual Twiplomacy analysis. Although US President Barack Obama has more followers, @pontifex is considered more influential because he averages 9,929 retweets per tweet compared to Obama's 1,210.

2. Environmentalists?

As Sky Technology correspondent Tom Cheshire points out both Pope Francis and Tim Cook are outspoken environmentalists.

Cook told climate change sceptics to ditch their stocks if they did not support his aim to slash greenhouse gases as the company invested in renewable energy. Pope Francis is a long-standing supporter of climate change issues. He even published the Catholic Church's first and only encyclical – a doctrine document – on the topic.

3. Tax?

Neither Google nor Apple are known for being up front in paying their taxes. Google recently paid £130m in back-taxes to HMRC for its profits over the last ten years. But the Tax Justice Network has suggested Google should be paying more than £200m every year rather than £130m for the past decade.

Similarly Apple has been heavily criticised for its policies of shifting profits around the world to evade tax. According to the senators on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Apple avoids $10bn of US tax every year.

So perhaps Pope Francis has just brought the two tech-giants in for a little chat about their tax policies? Nice idea. But unlikely.

4. Gay welcome?

The final possibility is the Pope's ongoing efforts to make the Catholic Church more inclusive. Tim Cook is openly gay and Francis famously said on the subject of homosexuality, "who am I to judge".

So perhaps in the case of Cook, the Pontiff is continuing his mission to open the arms of the Church to those it has previously distanced itself from. If this is the case, it would make a contrast to the Pope's comments over the weekend where he strongly defended marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

Whatever the thinking is behind these meetings it will be interesting to see if the series continues – Apple last Friday; Google the Friday before. Facebook this week?

Lifestyle