Catholic priests, under a lot of pressure already due to decades of scandal associated with the Catholic Church, received word from their holiest of holies, Pope Benedict XVI, that part of their new job description should be taking The Word to the internet using social media and blogging. In fact, the Pope urged priests to use all of the media tools at their disposal to preach the Gospel, seeking to engage in conversations with people of alternate religions.
This latest Â “commandment” from Vatican City comes after years of the Catholic Church’s growing web presence, culminating, perhaps, in the Vatican’s online site, The Holy See. Â The site offers the latest sermon from the Pope, information on the Vatican City State, and other nuggets of inside info for all people, whether religious, agnostic, or…backslidden. In case you missed something from the Pope, feel free to check out the Vatican’s YouTube Channel (yes, that’s what I said). Plus, Pope Benedict has his own portal, Pope2You.net, that broadcasts news on Benedict’s travels, his messages, and also includes a Facebook app to allows users to create “Pope postcards” to send to their friends.
The Pope urges Priests to use “cutting-edge technologies to express themselves and lead their communities” according to a Vatican message.
“The spread of multimedia communications and its rich ‘menu of options’ might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the web,” but priests are “challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources,” he said.
The Pope’s message was part of Â the World Day of Communications, and suggests that new media – online images, videos, blogs, and even web sites — be leveraged to help drive the Catholic Church’s message to both those familiar, and clueless, with Catholicism.Â Pope Benedict believes that priests should familiarize themselves with new media while in seminary; however, he stressed that the medium should never deflect, nor detract from, the message, the Church, or theological principles. Â (In the case of Jesus, the medium and the message were, of course, the same thing.)
While the Catholic Church and its Pope warily tread the social media landscape due to some of the content included on social media sites – especially the depictions of violence and sexual situations – Benedict has also seen value in the rapid dissemination of information and mass communication capabilities inherent to social media. He does warn, however, that social media may desensitize individuals to tragedy and violence.
Yet, by contrast, it seems to me that social media is highly sensitive to tragedy and violence; the earthquake in Haiti and the violence following the elections in Iran being two extremely relevant examples.
Despite their wariness, many of the church’s top leaders are early-adopters, including Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, one of the Pope’s advisers, and Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles.
While I don’t pretend to understand Catholicism and am not a Catholic in any sense of the word, I do have to applaud the church’s efforts. They’ve take steps that many corporations have yet to begin. Not to mention the fact that due to the internet’s global reach, an entity like the Catholic Church will have to incorporate interaction with global communities cautiously. The church may be in for a long haul – the short history of social media teaches that those entering online communities talking about nothing but their views and missions is, at best, ineffective. At worst, it can be offensive. To be truly heard, the Catholic Church will have to add some value to the conversation, which takes more listening than it does talking… a difficult feat for those who have devoted their lives to preaching.