Sat 25th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Fri 24th Oct 2014 at 18:39pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

The Pope, it seems, has mastered the impenetrable new world of cyberspace

Me? I am still struggling – what on earth is Facebook?

By on Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Thank heaven the Pope seems to understand what it's all about

Thank heaven the Pope seems to understand what it's all about

Well. Now the Pope has decided to make a pronouncement on communications in cyberspace, I thought I’d better have a look at what he had to say, since cyberspace is what you’re reading these blogs in. I was pretty impressed: it reminded me of what someone once said to me when I asked if someone he had just met was as intelligent as everyone said. “He was so darned intelligent,” was the reply, “I didn’t understand a word he said”.
Well, I did understand some of what the Pope said recently; but I also found myself struggling with parts of it. I usually give myself the excuse when stumped by some abstruse internet utterance or other that it’s a young man’s game, and I can’t be expected to keep up with it at my age, certainly nothing like as well as my 13-year-old grandson, let alone my son-in law, who is a professional digital nerd. Sending emails, Googling stuff and even writing blogs (thus becoming part of what is known as the Catholic blogosphere) I always thought was pretty good for an old chap like me: now here is the Pope, a decade and a half older, saying pretty difficult stuff, but obviously understanding the whole thing perfectly well, and making impressive sounding statements about it.
Being digitally illiterate, I’m rather dependent on commentators who seek to explain these things. What was the Pope actually saying? Russell Shaw, on a website called OSV Daily Take, reminded us that the title of the Pope’s remarks was “Truth, Proclamation, and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age” and then explained what it was about. “That’s a mouthful,” he opined, “but at least the focus on digital media makes sense. Digital is where the action is these days, and the emphasis on truth is a reminder that, whatever else digital media may be, they’re not a realm of fact but opinion. You say your piece, I say mine. In much of this egalitarian media world, one version of truth is as good as another”.
What? Is that really what the Pope was saying? “One version of truth is as good as another”? Surely not. That’s precisely what the Pope unceasingly tells us is not the case.

According to Edward Pentin, writing in the National Catholic Register, the “principal focus” of the Pope’s statement is the question of “social networking sites such as Facebook”, though “none”, he says, “is mentioned explicitly by name”:

The Pope’s message encourages all Christians to use this means of communication, and underlines its advantages for evangelisation. But the message also highlights the risks that go with digital media.

The Holy Father reaffirms many of the benefits and dangers of the digital age, saying social networks are a wonderful way to build relationships and community. But he warns against replacing real friendships with virtual ones.
“In the final analysis,” the Pope writes, “the truth of Christ is the full and authentic response to that human desire for relationship, communion and meaning which is reflected in the immense popularity of social networks. Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others.”

It’s a brave new world I don’t begin to understand. I feel like an ancient High Court judge, asking some question to which everyone but him knows the answer, like  “who are Posh and Becks?” What is Facebook? What’s the point of it? Why is it so dangerous? I don’t get it, any of it. Thank heaven, at least the Pope appears to.

As a footnote to the main story, at a Vatican press conference, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said his dicastery was working on a set of guidelines with recommendations for appropriate style and behaviour for Catholics online. Does that mean I’m going to have to tone my blogs down? Surely not. On Protect the Pope, Deacon Nick Donnelly draws attention to the Pope’s warning that “The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive, which stimulates the heart and moves the conscience”. He then comments, however, that:

“…in challenging the falsehoods and vitriol directed at the Holy Father and the Catholic Faith I have felt it necessary to bluntly name prejudice, intolerance and discrimination and hold those responsible for it to account. When someone appears to intentionally lie, it is necessary to identify them as liars; when someone appears to intentionally promote prejudice, it is necessary to identify them as bigots.”

Way to go, Deacon Nick; that’s my boy. I expect that’s what the Pontifical Council for Social Communications guidelines on the appropriate style and behaviour for Catholics online will recommend. Surely. Won’t it?

  • Jack Regan

    I think a lot of people will be very keen to see what these guidelines have to say. They are long overdue.

  • Frank Swarbrick

    Thank you very much Mr Oddie. You make me feel ‘good’. As an elderly gent myself (in my 80′s) and having been taught the rudiments of the P.C. (even before emails!) in the early 1990′s, I am still as computer and digitally illiterate as I was then. Apart from keeping in touch with friends by email, writing letters,etc. I have just sufficient knowledge to flip around the Catholic blogs and keep in tune with what’s happening in today’s Catholic world – things like the Pope’s Visit to UK, the Ordinariate, ICEL’S English translation of the 3rd Typical Edition of the Roman Missal and how this is likely to be received by the person-in-the-pew, I am still as ‘green’ as ever. Like yourself, Facebook, Twitter or any other social net-working is a foreign language coming from another planet, somewhere in cyberspace. The Holy Father puts us to shame and, after never having bothered about computers, certainly until very recently proves what a great and adaptable man Pope Benedict XV1 really is. Every day he produces another surprise! What a MAN, What a wonderful Holy Father!

  • Anonymous

    That’s a very interesting article, W Oddie. We had a report in The Herald (Glasgow) yesterday on this news but with a different slant. A very different slant.

    As we all know, contemporary popes have been very slow to label, let alone punish, modernists and heretics, but not at all slow to have a go at “conservative” or “traditionalist” Catholics.

    Well according to the report in yesterday’s Herald, these proposed guidelines are intended for “conservative” Catholics using the internet: “The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive.” (the report continues…) “The Pope did not name anyone, but the head of the Vatican’s social communications office, Archbishop Claudio Celli said it would not be incorrect to direct his exhortation to some conservative Catholic blogs, YouTube channels and sites which, with some vehemence, criticise bishops, public officials and policies they consider not Catholic enough.” The report now quotes the Archbishop): “The risk is there, there’s no doubt” (and he noted that the Pontifical Council for Social Communications were working on a set of guidelines with recommendations for style and behaviour of Catholics online.”

    Let me tell you upfront, folks, what I intend to do with these “guidelines.”

    I intend to do PRECISELY what the bishops and priests have done since Vatican II every time a set of “guidelines” or “instructions” on the liturgy were issued. IGNORE THEM.

    How absolutely dare they single out the one group of people who are defending the Faith against every attack, having to do so, please note, because the Pope and bishops are failing to do their job – how dare they single us out to insult with “guidelines” on how to behave online. Goodness, almost makes you wish you were a prostitute – they seem to have a very different set of “guidelines” to follow, courtesy of Pope Benedict.

    And, by the way, Catholic Truth recently deleted our Facebook page after discovering that the “gay” owners were stamping down on “hate speech” – in other words, nobody will speak out against homosexuality on Facebook – or else. So, it is astonishing that the Pope is implicitly condoning Catholics on Facebook. Shouldn’t he be warning us against becoming complicit in the sin of homosexual activity and culture, by our silence and acceptance of this pro-homosexual rule?

    If there is anyone in the house who still cannot see the diabolical disorientation in the Catholic Church today, would they put their hand up?

  • Anonymous

    Unbelievable. I hope you will read my post above and think back over the TRULY wonderful popes of the past. Then pray hard for this one. If you’ve been keeping in touch with Catholic blogs as you say, then you must know about the Pope’s shocking actions recently, condoms/Assisi III spring to mind. “Wonderful” he certainly is NOT.

  • Anonymous

    What is long overdue, Jack Regan, is a public rebuke to the thousands of disobedient bishops the world over with their ignorant clergy. Do you know that a priest told me the other day that he and his fellow student priests were never taught in seminary that the priesthood confers an indelible mark on the soul, that “once a priest, always a priest.”

    Why is the Pope wasting time on stupid novelties like these “guidelines” – which I am going to ignore, big time in the clear knowledge that I’ll be faced with a stack of ignorant comments from bloggers telling me I’m “disobedient” and “unfaithful” because they don’t know the difference between a Pontifical Council and a Motu Proprio, or a set of guideliness and an act of the Magisterium.

    What a waste of time and energy. Talk about fiddling while Rome (literally) burns.


  • Anonymous

    Pope Benedict XVI has put digital communication under the spotlight. This is one instance where all who support Tradition can demonstrate that they are not dinosaurs who live in the past, but are aware of new developments on all fronts.

    This should be the catalyst whereby they proclaim the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church far and wide, loud and clear, and without ceasing. “Go ye and teach all nations” said Our Lord – and that is what we should be doing using all the tools available.

    Long live Tradition.

  • Anonymous

    “It is not one swalowe that bryngeth in somer. It is not one good qualitie that maketh a man good”. – Gathered out of the Chiliades of Erasmus, 1539.

    It is encouraging to see Pope Benedict XVI demonstrating that he knows about the Internet and much of what it has spawned, but when are we going to see his holiness putting his new knowledge into service in the discharge of his duties as Christ’s Vicar on earth?

    When shall we hear that he has emailed every Bishop in the world to come to Rome to join him in the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
    Or to implement Summorum Pontificum calling for the reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass?
    Or for the receiving of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue as befits the respect owed to Our Lord?
    Or for the banning of Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, along with girl altar servers?

    Or when will he commission a Youtube video exposing the Soho Gay Masses for the deceit that they are?
    Or a Youtube video reiterating his observations made whilst Cardinal Ratzinger about the Roman Catholic Church being the only true Church and that all other sects and cults are beyond the pale?

    When there are signs of action of some of these scores, I will join your acclamation of Pope Benedict XVI being a wonderful Holy Father.

    Good Health, Frank, and God bless you.

  • RJ

    “There exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others”

    I think these words are very apposite.

  • RJ

    Further to the above: it seems significant that these words were given on the feast of St Francis de Sales, a gentle saint, who won back many souls to the Church and is quoted as saying: ”A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”

  • Londonistar

    Now THAT is something I could protest against – the gay and atheist bigotry exhibited towards catholics