II. Opportunities and challenges
III. Recommendations and
I - INTRODUCTION
1. The Church's
interest in the Internet is a particular expression of her
longstanding interest in the media of social communication. Seeing
the media as an outcome of the historical scientific process by
which humankind “advances further and further in the discovery of
the resources and values contained in the whole of
creation”,1 the Church often has declared her conviction
that they are, in the words of the Second Vatican Council,
“marvellous technical inventions” 2 that already do much
to meet human needs and may yet do even more.
Thus the Church has
taken a fundamentally positive approach to the media.3
Even when condemning serious abuses, documents of this Pontifical
Council for Social Communications have been at pains to make it
clear that “a merely censorious attitude on the part of the
Church...is neither sufficient nor
Quoting Pope Pius
XII's 1957 encyclical letter
Miranda Prorsus, the Pastoral Instruction on the Means of
Communio et Progressio, published in 1971, underlined that
point: “The Church sees these media as ‘gifts of God' which, in
accordance with his providential design, unite men in brotherhood
and so help them to cooperate with his plan for their
salvation”.5 This remains our view, and it is the view
we take of the Internet.
2. As the Church
understands it, the history of human communication is something
like a long journey, bringing humanity “from the pride-driven
project of Babel and the collapse into confusion and mutual
incomprehension to which it gave rise (cf. Gen 11:1-9), to
Pentecost and the gift of tongues: a restoration of communication,
centered on Jesus, through the action of the Holy
Spirit”.6 In the life, death, and resurrection of
Christ, “communication among men found its highest ideal and
supreme example in God who had become man and
The modern media of
social communication are cultural factors that play a role in this
story. As the Second Vatican Council remarks, “although we must be
careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase
of the kingdom of Christ”, nevertheless “such progress is of vital
concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the
better ordering of human society”.8 Considering the
media of social communication in this light, we see that they
“contribute greatly to the enlargement and enrichment of men's
minds and to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of
Today this applies in
a special way to the Internet, which is helping bring about
revolutionary changes in commerce, education, politics, journalism,
the relationship of nation to nation and culture to culture—changes
not just in how people communicate but in how they understand their
lives. In a companion document,
Ethics in Internet, we discuss these matters in their
ethical dimension.10 Here we consider the Internet's
implications for religion and especially for the Catholic
3. The Church has a
two-fold aim in regard to the media. One aspect is to encourage
their right development and right use for the sake of human
development, justice, and peace—for the upbuilding of society at
the local, national, and community levels in light of the common
good and in a spirit of solidarity. Considering the great
importance of social communications, the Church seeks “honest and
respectful dialogue with those responsible for the communications
media”—a dialogue that relates primarily to the shaping of media
policy.11 “On the Church's side this dialogue involves
efforts to understand the media—their purposes, procedures, forms
and genres, internal structures and modalities—and to offer support
and encouragement to those involved in media work. On the basis of
this sympathetic understanding and support, it becomes possible to
offer meaningful proposals for removing obstacles to human progress
and the proclamation of the Gospel”.12
But the Church's
concern also relates to communication in and by the Church herself.
Such communication is more than just an exercise in technique, for
it “finds its starting point in the communion of love among the
divine Persons and their communication with us”, and in the
realization that Trinitarian communication “reaches out to
humankind: The Son is the Word, eternally ‘spoken' by the Father;
and in and through Jesus Christ, Son and Word made flesh, God
communicates himself and his salvation to women and
God continues to
communicate with humanity through the Church, the bearer and
custodian of his revelation, to whose living teaching office alone
he has entrusted the task of authentically interpreting his
word.14 Moreover, the Church herself is a communio, a communion of persons and eucharistic communities
arising from and mirroring the communion of the
Trinity;15 communication therefore is of the essence of
the Church. This, more than any other reason, is why “the Church's
practice of communication should be exemplary, reflecting the
highest standards of truthfulness, accountability, sensitivity to
human rights, and other relevant principles and
4. Three decades ago
Communio et Progressio pointed out that “modern media offer
new ways of confronting people with the message of the
Gospel”.17 Pope Paul VI said the Church “would feel
guilty before the Lord” if it failed to use the media for
evangelization.18 Pope John Paul II has called the media
“the first Areopagus of the modern age”, and declared that “it is
not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message
and the Church's authentic teaching. It is also necessary to
integrate that message into the ‘new culture' created by modern
communications”.19 Doing that is all the more important
today, since not only do the media now strongly influence what
people think about life but also to a great extent “human
experience itself is an experience of
All this applies to
the Internet. And even though the world of social communications
“may at times seem at odds with the Christian message, it also
offers unique opportunities for proclaiming the saving truth of
Christ to the whole human family. Consider...the positive
capacities of the Internet to carry religious information and
teaching beyond all barriers and frontiers. Such a wide audience
would have been beyond the wildest imaginings of those who preached
the Gospel before us...Catholics should not be afraid to throw open
the doors of social communications to Christ, so that his Good News
may be heard from the housetops of the
II OPPORTUNITIES AND
5. “Communication in and by the Church is essentially
communication of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the
proclamation of the Gospel as a prophetic, liberating word to the
men and women of our times; it is testimony, in the face of radical
secularization, to divine truth and to the transcendent destiny of
the human person; it is witness given in solidarity with all
believers against conflict and division, to justice and communion
among peoples, nations, and cultures”.22
Since announcing the Good News to people formed by a media
culture requires taking carefully into account the special
characteristics of the media themselves, the Church now needs to
understand the Internet. This is necessary in order to communicate
effectively with people—especially young people—who are steeped in
the experience of this new technology, and also in order to use it
The media offer important benefits and advantages from a
religious perspective: “They carry news and information about
religious events, ideas, and personalities; they serve as vehicles
for evangelization and catechesis. Day in and day out, they provide
inspiration, encouragement, and opportunities for worship to
persons confined to their homes or to institutions”.23
But over and above these, there also are benefits more or less
peculiar to the Internet. It offers people direct and immediate
access to important religious and spiritual resources—great
libraries and museums and places of worship, the teaching documents
of the Magisterium, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the
Church and the religious wisdom of the ages. It has a remarkable
capacity to overcome distance and isolation, bringing people into
contact with like-minded persons of good will who join in virtual
communities of faith to encourage and support one another. The
Church can perform an important service to Catholics and
non-Catholics alike by the selection and transmission of useful
data in this medium.
The Internet is relevant to many activities and programs of the
Church— evangelization, including both re-evangelization and new
evangelization and the traditional missionary work ad
gentes, catechesis and other kinds of education, news and
information, apologetics, governance and administration, and some
forms of pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. Although the
virtual reality of cyberspace cannot substitute for real
interpersonal community, the incarnational reality of the
sacraments and the liturgy, or the immediate and direct
proclamation of the gospel, it can complement them, attract people
to a fuller experience of the life of faith, and enrich the
religious lives of users. It also provides the Church with a means
for communicating with particular groups—young people and young
adults, the elderly and home-bound, persons living in remote areas,
the members of other religious bodies—who otherwise may be
difficult to reach.
A growing number of parishes, dioceses, religious congregations,
and church-related institutions, programs, and organizations of all
kinds now make effective use of the Internet for these and other
purposes. Creative projects under Church sponsorship exist in some
places on the national and regional levels. The Holy See has been
active in this area for several years and is continuing to expand
and develop its Internet presence. Church-related groups that have
not yet taken steps to enter cyberspace are encouraged to look into
the possibility of doing so at an early date. We strongly recommend
the exchange of ideas and information about the Internet among
those with experience in the field and those who are newcomers.
6. The Church also needs to understand and use the Internet as a
tool of internal communications. This requires keeping clearly in
view its special character as a direct, immediate, interactive, and
Already, the two-way interactivity of the Internet is blurring
the old distinction between those who communicate and those who
receive what is communicated,24 and creating a situation
in which, potentially at least, everyone can do both. This is not
the one-way, top-down communication of the past. As more and more
people become familiar with this characteristic of the Internet in
other areas of their lives, they can be expected also to look for
it in regard to religion and the Church.
The technology is new, but the idea is not. Vatican Council II
said members of the Church should disclose to their pastors “their
needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits
children of God and brothers of Christ”; in fact, according to
knowledge, competence, or position, the faithful are not only able
but sometimes obliged “to manifest their opinion on those things
which pertain to the good of the Church”.25
Communio et Progressio remarked that as a “living body” the
Church “needs public opinion in order to sustain a giving and
taking among her members”.26 Although truths of faith
“do not leave room for arbitrary interpretations”, the pastoral
instruction noted “an enormous area where members of the Church can
express their views”.27
Similar ideas are
expressed in the Code of Canon Law 28 as well as in more
recent documents of the Pontifical Council for Social
Aetatis Novae calls two-way communication and
public opinion “one of the ways of realizing in a concrete manner
the Church's character as communio”.30
Ethics in Communications says: “A two-way flow of
information and views between pastors and faithful, freedom of
expression sensitive to the well being of the community and to the
role of the Magisterium in fostering it, and responsible public
opinion all are important expressions of ‘the fundamental right of
dialogue and information within the Church'”.31 The
Internet provides an effective technological means of realizing
Here, then, is an
instrument that can be put creatively to use for various aspects of
administration and governance. Along with opening up channels for
the expression of public opinion, we have in mind such things as
consulting experts, preparing meetings, and practicing
collaboration in and among particular churches and religious
institutes on local, national, and international levels.
7. Education and
training are another area of opportunity and need. “Today everybody
needs some form of continuing media education, whether by personal
study or participation in an organized program or both. More than
just teaching about techniques, media education helps people form
standards of good taste and truthful moral judgment, an aspect of
conscience formation. Through her schools and formation programs
the Church should provide media education of this
Education and training
regarding the Internet ought to be part of comprehensive programs
of media education available to members of the Church. As much as
possible, pastoral planning for social communications should make
provision for this training in the formation of seminarians,
priests, religious, and lay pastoral personnel as well as teachers,
parents, and students.33
Young people in
particular need to be taught “not only to be good Christians when
they are recipients but also to be active in using all the aids to
communication that lie within the media...So, young people will be
true citizens of that age of social communications which has
already begun” 34—an age in which media are seen to be
“part of a still unfolding culture whose full implications are as
yet imperfectly understood”.35 Teaching about the
Internet and the new technology thus involves much more than
teaching techniques; young people need to learn how to function
well in the world of cyberspace, make discerning judgments
according to sound moral criteria about what they find there, and
use the new technology for their integral development and the
benefit of others.
the internet also presents some special problems for the over
and above those of a general nature discussed in
Ethics in Internet, the document accompanying this
one.36 While emphasizing what is positive about the
Internet, it is important to be clear about what is not.
At a very deep
level, “the world of the media can sometimes seem indifferent and
even hostile to Christian faith and morality. This is partly
because media culture is so deeply imbued with a typically
postmodern sense that the only absolute truth is that there are no
absolute truths or that, if there were, they would be inaccessible
to human reason and therefore
Among the specific
problems presented by the Internet is the presence of hate sites
devoted to defaming and attacking religious and ethnic groups. Some
of these target the Catholic Church. Like pornography and violence
in the media, Internet hate sites are “reflections of the dark side
of a human nature marred by sin”.38 And while respect
for free expression may require tolerating even voices of hatred up
to a point, industry self-regulation—and, where required,
intervention by public authority—should establish and enforce
reasonable limits to what can be said.
of web sites calling themselves Catholic creates a problem of a
different sort. As we have said, church-related groups should be
creatively present on the Internet; and well-motivated,
well-informed individuals and unofficial groups acting on their own
initiative are entitled to be there as well. But it is confusing,
to say the least, not to distinguish eccentric doctrinal
interpretations, idiosyncratic devotional practices, and
ideological advocacy bearing a ‘Catholic' label from the authentic
positions of the Church. We suggest an approach to this issue
9. Certain other
matters still require much reflection. Regarding these, we urge
continued research and study, including “the development of an
anthropology and a theology of communication” 39—now,
with specific reference to the Internet. Along with study and
research, of course, positive pastoral planning for the use of the
Internet can and should go forward.40
One area for
research concerns the suggestion that the wide range of choices
regarding consumer products and services available on the Internet
may have a spillover effect in regard to religion and encourage a
‘consumer' approach to matters of faith. Data suggest that some
visitors to religious web sites may be on a sort of shopping spree,
picking and choosing elements of customized religious packages to
suit their personal tastes. The “tendency on the part of some
Catholics to be selective in their adherence” to the Church's
teaching is a recognized problem in other contexts;41
more information is needed about whether and to what extent the
problem is exacerbated by the Internet.
Similarly, as noted
above, the virtual reality of cyberspace has some worrisome
implications for religion as well as for other areas of life.
Virtual reality is no substitute for the Real Presence of Christ in
the Eucharist, the sacramental reality of the other sacraments, and
shared worship in a flesh-and-blood human community. There are no
sacraments on the Internet; and even the religious experiences
possible there by the grace of God are insufficient apart from
real-world interaction with other persons of faith. Here is another
aspect of the Internet that calls for study and reflection. At the
same time, pastoral planning should consider how to lead people
from cyberspace to true community and how, through teaching and
catechesis, the Internet might subsequently be used to sustain and
enrich them in their Christian commitment.
III RECOMMENDATIONS AND
people, as concerned members of the larger Internet audience who
also have legitimate particular interests of their own, wish to be
part of the process that guides the future development of this new
medium. It goes without saying that this will sometimes require
them to adjust their own thinking and practice.
It is important,
too, that people at all levels of the Church use the Internet
creatively to meet their responsibilities and help fulfill the
Church's mission. Hanging back timidly from fear of technology or
for some other reason is not acceptable, in view of the very many
positive possibilities of the Internet. “Methods of facilitating
communication and dialogue among her own members can strengthen the
bonds of unity between them. Immediate access to information makes
it possible for [the Church] to deepen her dialogue with the
contemporary world...The Church can more readily inform the world
of her beliefs and explain the reasons for her stance on any given
issue or event. She can hear more clearly the voice of public
opinion, and enter into a continuous discussion with the world
around her, thus involving herself more immediately in the common
search for solutions to humanity's many pressing
11. In concluding
these reflections, therefore, we offer words of encouragement to
several groups in particular—Church leaders, pastoral personnel,
educators, parents, and especially young people.
leaders: People in leadership positions in
all sectors of the Church need to understand the media, apply this
understanding in formulating pastoral plans for social
communications 43 together with concrete policies and
programs in this area, and make appropriate use of media. Where
necessary, they should receive media education themselves; in fact,
“the Church would be well served if more of those who hold offices
and perform functions in her name received communication
This applies to the
Internet as well as to the older media. Church leaders are obliged
to use “the full potential of the ‘computer age' to serve the human
and transcendent vocation of every person, and thus to give glory
to the Father from whom all good things come”.45 They
ought to employ this remarkable technology in many different
aspects of the Church's mission, while also exploring opportunities
for ecumenical and interreligious cooperation in its
A special aspect of
the Internet, as we have seen, concerns the sometimes confusing
proliferation of unofficial web sites labeled ‘Catholic'. A system
of voluntary certification at the local and national levels under
the supervision of representatives of the Magisterium might be
helpful in regard to material of a specifically doctrinal or
catechetical nature. The idea is not to impose censorship but to
offer Internet users a reliable guide to what expresses the
authentic position of the Church.
personnel. Priests, deacons, religious, and lay pastoral workers
should have media education to increase their understanding of the
impact of social communications on individuals and society and help
them acquire a manner of communicating that speaks to the
sensibilities and interests of people in a media culture. Today
this clearly includes training regarding the Internet, including
how to use it in their work. They can also profit from websites
offering theological updating and pastoral
As for Church
personnel directly involved in media, it hardly needs saying that
they must have professional training. But they also need doctrinal
and spiritual formation, since “in order to witness to Christ it is
necessary to encounter him oneself and foster a personal
relationship with him through prayer, the Eucharist and sacramental
reconciliation, reading and reflection on God's word, the study of
Christian doctrine, and service to others”.46
To educators and
catechists. The Pastoral Instruction
Communio et Progressio spoke of the “urgent duty” of
Catholic schools to train communicators and recipients of social
communications in relevant Christian principles.47 The
same message has been repeated many times. In the age of the
Internet, with its enormous outreach and impact, the need is more
urgent than ever.
colleges, schools, and educational programs at all levels should
provide courses for various groups—“seminarians, priests, religious
brothers and sisters, and lay leaders...teachers, parents, and
students” 48—as well as more advanced training in
communications technology, management, ethics, and policy issues
for individuals preparing for professional media work or
decision-making roles, including those who work in social
communications for the Church. Furthermore, we commend the issues
and questions mentioned above to the attention of scholars and
researchers in relevant disciplines in Catholic institutions of
For the sake of their children, as well as for their own sakes,
parents must “learn and practice the skills of discerning viewers
and listeners and readers, acting as models of prudent use of media
in the home”.49 As far as the Internet is concerned,
children and young people often are more familiar with it than
their parents are, but parents still are seriously obliged to guide
and supervise their children in its use.50 If this means
learning more about the Internet than they have up to now, that
will be all to good.
should include making sure that filtering technology is used in
computers available to children when that is financially and
technically feasible, in order to protect them as much as possible
from pornography, sexual predators, and other threats. Unsupervised
exposure to the Internet should not be allowed. Parents and
children should dialogue together about what is seen and
experienced in cyberspace; sharing with other families who have the
same values and concerns will also be helpful. The fundamental
parental duty here is to help children become discriminating,
responsible Internet users and not addicts of the Internet,
neglecting contact with their peers and with nature
To children and young
people. The Internet is a door opening on a glamorous and
exciting world with a powerful formative influence; but not
everything on the other side of the door is safe and wholesome and
true. “Children and young people should be open to formation
regarding media, resisting the easy path of uncritical passivity,
peer pressure, and commercial exploitation”.51 The young
owe it to themselves—and to their parents and families and friends,
their pastors and teachers, and ultimately to God—to use the
The Internet places in
the grasp of young people at an unusually early age an immense
capacity for doing good and doing harm, to themselves and others.
It can enrich their lives beyond the dreams of earlier generations
and empower them to enrich others' lives in turn. It also can
plunge them into consumerism, pornographic and violent fantasy, and
Young people, as has
often been said, are the future of society and the Church. Good use
of the Internet can help prepare them for their responsibilities in
both. But this will not happen automatically. The Internet is not
merely a medium of entertainment and consumer gratification. It is
a tool for accomplishing useful work, and the young must learn to
see it and use it as such. In cyberspace, at least as much as
anywhere else, they may be called on to go against the tide,
practice counter-culturalism, even suffer persecution for the sake
of what is true and good.
12. To all persons
of good will. Finally, then, we would suggest some virtues that
need to be cultivated by everyone who wants to make good use of the
Internet; their exercise should be based upon and guided by a
realistic appraisal of its contents.
Prudence is necessary
in order clearly to see the implications—the potential for good and
evil—in this new medium and to respond creatively to its challenges
Justice is needed,
especially justice in working to close the digital divide—the gap
between the information-rich and the information-poor in today's
world.52 This requires a commitment to the international
common good, no less than the “globalization of
Fortitude, courage, is
necessary. This means standing up for truth in the face of
religious and moral relativism, for altruism and generosity in the
face of individualistic consumerism, for decency in the face of
sensuality and sin.
And temperance is
needed—a self-disciplined approach to this remarkable technological
instrument, the Internet, so as to use it wisely and only for
Reflecting on the
Internet, as upon all the other media of social communications, we
recall that Christ is “the perfect communicator” 54—the
norm and model of the Church's approach to communication, as well
as the content that the Church is obliged to communicate. “May
Catholics involved in the world of social communications preach the
truth of Jesus ever more boldly from the housetops, so that all men
and women may hear about 0the love which is the heart of God's
self-communication in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today,
and for ever”.55
February 22, 2002, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the
John P. Foley President. Pierfranco Pastore
(1) John Paul II,
encyclical letter Laborem Exercens, n. 25; cf. Vatican Council II,
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, n. 34.
(2) Vatican Council II, Decree on the Means of Social Communication
Inter Mirifica, n. 1.
(3) For example, Inter Mirifica; the Messages of Pope Paul VI and
Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the World Communication Days;
Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral Instruction
Communio et Progressio, Pornography and Violence in the
Communications Media: A Pastoral Response, Pastoral Instruction
Aetatis Novae, Ethics in Advertising, Ethics in Communications.
(4) Pornography and Violence in the Communications Media, n.
(5) Communio et Progressio, n. 2.
(6) John Paul II, Message for the 34th World Communications Day,
June 4, 2000.
(7) Communio et Progressio, n. 10.
(8) Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 39.
(9) Inter Mirifica, 2.
(10) Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Ethics in
(11) Aetatis Novae, 8.
(13) Ethics in Communications, n. 3.
(14) Cf. Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine
Revelation Dei Verbum, n. 10.
(15) Aetatis Novae, n. 10.
(16) Ethics in Communications, n. 26.
(17) Communio et Progressio, 128.
(18) Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 45.
(19) Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, n. 37.
(20) Aetatis Novae, n. 2.
(21) John Paul II, Message for the 35th World Communications Day,
n. 3, May 27, 2001.
(22) Aetatis Novae, n. 9.
(23) Ethics in Communications, n. 11.
(24) Cf. Communio et Progressio, n. 15.
(25) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, n. 37.
(26) Communio et Progressio, n. 116.
(27) Ibid., n. 117.
(28) Cf. Canon 212.2, 212.3.
(29) Cf. Aetatis Novae, n. 10; Ethics in Communications, n. 26.
(30) Aetatis Novae, n. 10.
(31) Ethics in Communications, n. 26.
(32) Ethics in Communications, n. 25.
(33) Aetatis Novae, n. 28.
(34) Communio et Progressio, n. 107.
(35) John Paul II, Message for the 24th World Communications Day,
(36) Cf. Ethics in Internet.
(37) John Paul II, Message for the 35th World Communications Day,
(38) Pornography and Violence in the Communications Media, n.
(39) Aetatis Novae, 8.
(40) Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, n.
(41) Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Bishops of the United States,
n. 5, Los Angeles, September 16, 1987.
(42) John Paul II, Message for the 24th World Communications Day,
(43) Cf. Aetatis Novae, nn. 23-33.
(44) Ethics in Communications, n. 26.
(45) Message for the 24th World Communications Day.
(46) Message for the 34th World Communications Day, 2000.
(47) Communio et Progressio, n. 107.
(48) Aetatis Novae, n. 28.
(49) Ethics in Communications, n. 25.
(50) Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio, n. 76.
(51) Ethics in Communications, n. 25.
(52) Cf. Ethics in Internet, nn. 10, 17.
(53) John Paul II, Address to the UN Secretary General and to the
Administrative Committee on Coordination of the United Nations, n.
2, April 7, 2000.
(54) Communio et Progressio, n. 11.
(55) Message for the 35th World Communications Day, n.
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