Vatican: the Internet is "truly blessed!"
May 26, 2009 8:36 PM CT
It's easy to picture the Vatican as a medieval anachronism—a theme park built by Michelangelo and protected by the Swiss Guard (who really are Swiss, by the way). Heck, its press office even closes at 2:30pm.
But this impression isn't wholly accurate. The Vatican has taken plenty of small steps into the Internet age over the last decade and has repeatedly urged the faithful to take the euangelion of Jesus to the furthest corners of the "so-called cyberspace"—lo, even unto Facebook and beyond.
This last week, the head of the Vatican press office went even further, saying that he need to "work even harder so that every day it will be more true to say, and so that we might be able to say with greater and greater conviction: the Internet is truly blessed!"
Solving the Internet's "problems"
In a speech in England, Frederico Lombardi SJ offered a "Roman perspective on the problems of new communications." In his talk, Lombardi showed himself to be a man who believes in the importance of the Internet even as he recognizes that "today’s communications environment is rapidly becoming something vastly different from that which my generation first experienced it."
Credit: Catholic Church (England & Wales)
The "problems" of the Internet are many, but Lombardi is particularly concerned with the way that something as vital as the Internet is distributed so unevenly. "From the Church’s point of view, leaving those with fewer possibilities on the margins is simply not an option," he said. "For us, the poor and developing countries are at least as important as the wealthy, if not more."
Because of this uneven distribution, the Vatican will never truly be at the cutting edge of online communications—it simply needs to put too many resources into "traditional" media so that it can reach the billions for whom the Internet is a dream or an occasional luxury.
But the Internet is a special instrument of "blessedness" because of its unique ability to connect people across cultures and borders. The rise of social networking shows the primitive power of relationships, friends, human connection—these are deep human needs, and Internet has "given rise to an omnidirectional flow of transversal and personal communications, the scope of which was unimaginable until very recently."
When it comes to the Church's own Internet use, though, the "flow" of communication isn't omnidirectional at all. It is unidirectional and hierarchical, and Lombardi knows it. The problem is how to change that; the Pope certainly can't answer YouTube questions from a billion Catholics.
"We are on our way towards an active Internet presence," Lombardi said, "though for the moment it is a basically one-directional presence, and will be until we understand the best way to establish interactive dialogue with our visitors."
But with government leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama using the Internet in innovate ways to engage citizens, the Vatican hopes it can do something too. One concern is that this sort of two-way engagement could be a little creepy; by flattening the Catholic hierarchy, the Pope might actually get too directly involved in questions and controversies best left to local leaders.
"How can we correctly promote the presence of the Pope in the life of the whole Church?" asked Lombardi. "That is, how can we use this technology to make his presence felt in the local Churches throughout the world without contributing to the creation or growth of a centralistic mentality that is not only inopportune, but at loggerheads with the right articulation and proper autonomy of the local Church?"
So the Internet is truly blessed, but like any good thing, it has its proper sphere and limits. As the Pope noted in a speech for World Communications Day this weekend, "If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development." (Who knew that the Pope had heard of WoW addiction?)
"Guild raid after work, guys?"
And of course there's all that porn.
Lombardi isn't dissuaded by the problems, and neither is Benedict XVI—but both are aware that they aren't the men to solve them.
"It falls, in particular, to young people," said the Pope, "who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this 'digital continent.'"
This certainly doesn't sound "medieval." Indeed, it sounds like an exhortation right out of the next age of exploration, when Jesuits like Lombardi sailed the globe and brought the faith to new lands.