The Catholic Church could be headed for a virtual schism as the Vatican embraces Web 2.0 and declares "the internet is blessed", while a Scottish Bishop warns his flock against the "inane chatter" found online.
Father Fredrico Lombardi, SJ, the Vatican's head of communications, marked the Church's upcoming Communications Day with a lengthy speech. In it, he embraced the possibilities of the internet as a force for unity, and for reaching out to the poor and marginalised as well as the wealthy world.
At the same time, Lombardi recognised the "risks and the ambiguities that attend this stage, the enormous potential for manipulation and moral corruption that are nested in the modern social communications." He detailed these in wonderfully Vaticanesque language - see below.
The Vatican has been on the web for some time, and recently jumped onto YouTube.
Lombardi said "The impressive development of social networks, of content and information exchange, of the desire to comment on and intervene in every discussion of every topic, tells us that the internet has given rise to an omni-directional flow of transversal and personal communications, the scope of which was unimaginable until very recently."
He argued that the Church had to have a coherent response if it wanted to interact with the faithful, and presumably not faithful: "We need to develop a structural capacity to respond clearly and competently to the questions that arise – and that takes manpower, time and money."
While some in the Church and other denominations will happily condemn the net - along with radio, TV, printing etc. - as instruments of the Devil, Lombardi concluded his speech by recalling Pope John Paul II's joy at being able to connect with Catholic Youth celebrations by TV, and declaring that "television is blessed".
Now, Lombardi said, "I shall have to work more – all of us shall have to work even harder, so that every day it will be more and more true, to say, and so that we might be able to say with greater and greater conviction: the internet is truly blessed!"
Lombardi might want to work first in Scotland, where the Bishop of Paisley has decided to mark Communications Day by warning against the danger of social networking replacing real relationships.
According to The Daily Telegraph, The Right Reverend Philip Tartaglia is using a very old school form of social networking - a pastoral letter to be read out by priests at Sunday's service - to acknowledge the benefits of the net, but also to put right anyone who thinks virtual relationships can meaningful substitute for real world ones.
"In dialogue with others we need to be wary of the inane chatter that can go on in the digital world which does nothing to promote growth in understanding and tolerance," he thundered.
"We should avoid an obsessive need for virtual connectedness and develop primary relationships," he said. Replacing real world relationships with online ones is "profoundly sad", he concluded. ®