Father Rosica of Salt and Light Television talks to priests about the new frontier of connection
By Brent Mattson
The B.C. Catholic
Vancouver--The Internet isn't all it's cracked up to be, and sometimes the truth can slip between those cracks.
That was the message Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Television, passed on about the wild frontier of the new media when he gave a talk to 65 priests from the archdiocese. Father Rosica was visiting the Archdiocese of Vancouver from Toronto to give a number of talks. The clergy lecture was at St. Patrick's Parish in Vancouver March 22.
Father Rosica focused on new challenges to the Church in the area of the Internet, social communications, and social media. "These are really important areas, so much so that a big part of the last pontifical council meetings, the past two rounds, has been spent on this," he said. "This is a world-wide phenomenon."
There are serious ethical questions that must be addressed by the Church and by individuals, he continued. These include issues of privacy, security, confidentiality, copyright, intellectual property law, pornography, hate sites, the dissemination of rumours, and "character assassination under the guise of news."
"The Internet is not only a source of problems, it is a source of great benefits to the human race when used properly," he said. "The benefits can be fully realized only if the problems are named, addressed, and solved."
He said the three main issues are: the destruction of the hierarchy of information, the challenge of interactivity, and a lack of accountability which permits people to libel, defame, and slander others anonymously.
He discussed the importance of assessing content found on the Internet, and not taking any of it at face value. Father Rosica used the example of a priest he knows who takes homilies from the web and preaches them at Mass without reading them first.
"There are some things that are being proclaimed from the pulpits that are questionable," he said. "Discernment is required in what you take from the Internet. It's not to substitute for research, study, or reflection. Judge and assess things carefully."
Blogs, he said, are becoming a major topic of discussion among the Catholic press as well as at the Vatican. He said they are useful for communicating and for public relations.
Around 70,000 users check Salt and Light's English blog each week, he noted, "We use it as a teaching tool," he said. "Thousands of priests download the Scripture stuff and copy it, and we're happy to provide it."
However, he said because anybody can create a blog, readers must be wary.
"We have rules among the staff. We don't put things on the blog that are deprecating, implicating, or foolish," Father Rosica said. "Websites and blogs, especially Catholic ones, tend to concentrate on negative messages."
Father Rosica said a study of Catholic blogs involving non-Catholics and non-Christians looking at Catholic blogs found they were filled with "filth, hate, conjecture, and innuendo." He added some blogs attempt to claim they are official, using the Vatican crest or a picture of the Pope.
Many of these blogs often have "vitriolic, vindictive messages," he said, citing the LifeSite News blog as a major culprit.
"The LifeSite blog is not a Catholic blog. It is not an authoritative blog," he said. "It has caused huge problems in the North American church, not just in Canada."
Father Rosica said American bishops are upset about the division it has caused in the Church. "One of the American cardinals asked me where the headquarters was and I said, `It's somebody's basement in the Ottawa Valley.' He thought it was a tower in downtown Toronto, so it's extremely deceiving."
LifeSite and other blogs, Father Rosica said, are especially dangerous when many priests "read the blogs more than they read the Scriptures or the Vatican website." He said many laypeople are referencing the blogs more than the authoritative teachings of the Church.
"Some blogs have coarsened Catholic dialogue in the past years: the anti-Obama Catholic blogs; the so-called pro-life blogs, that may be advocating pro-life, but they are decimating persons and reputations," Father Rosica noted.
He added that non-Catholics also see these blogs online, which can give a skewed perception of what the Church stands for.
"If we judged our identity on certain websites and blogs on the Internet, Christians and Catholics would be known as the people who stand against everything and against everyone," he said. "If anything we should be known as the people who are for something."
Despite these issues with blogging, Father Rosica said interactive communications on the web can also connect people positively. He said it has linked the Church between continents much more closely, but we also need to be wary of how it can erode and cheapen personal relationships.
"Social networking sites make some kinds of communication easier, because they are not tied to geography, or governed by social norms, therefore they are free to go with any whims," he said. "While many of us can get back in touch with our friends via the Internet and social networking, there is a danger that online interactions can hurt our real-life friendships and interactions."
Social networking, Father Rosica explained, can encourage a "new form of narcissism." He said people reveal in their profiles the most intimate details about themselves to the world and "we can't take it back."
He said YouTube is an important tool for evangelization, but it also reinforces a belief that every mundane detail of our lives is worth publicizing.
"People are not just living in the moment, but they are publicizing the moment."
Father Rosica said these new forms of communication can hurt the "art and language of friendship."
Though these technologies are supposed to better connect us, he said, there is an increase in reports of loneliness and distance between people.
Father Rosica talked about a woman he had met after Mass who said she received 20 text messages a day from her granddaughter at the University of Toronto. She tried to phone her and tell her to pick up the phone to talk or to come have coffee with her, because they lived in the same city.
"You don't see people. You see words," he said.
"Without friends, human beings, to connect with, what are we doing?" he asked. "Don't ever forget: the Word did not become a text message, or an email, or a blog; He became flesh and dwelt among us."