WASHINGTON (September 16, 1997) -- Saying that it wished to affirm the value of emerging new means of communication, the Committee on Communications of the United States Catholic Conference issued a resolution on computer networking.
Release of the resolution was approved by the USCC Administrative Board at its meeting on September 10, 1997.
Recalling that Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical "Redemptoris Missio," has called the mass media one of the "modern equivalents of the Areopagus" of Athens, one of the "the new sectors in which the Gospel must be proclaimed," the resolution says that "a relatively new aspect of the media which is already re-shaping the ways in which we interact with one another is computer networking and, in particular, the Internet."
The resolution draws attention to the fact that, within the Church community, "many dioceses, parishes, religious communities, schools, and other Church institutions and organizations are already effectively employing these new means."
The resolution says that "the Church and her institutions (including schools, social service agencies, and health care facilities) and all persons regardless of income should have access to these means of communications.
"As computer networks become more essential to functioning within society, legislation and regulation regarding them should guarantee that access," it continues.
The resolution also highlights concern about "the possible abuses of computer networking."
The Committee on Communications states as its principal concern "that what is presented on the Internet and elsewhere as `Catholic' be authentically so and that truly Catholic sites not be linked to sites which contradict Church teaching and practice."
The resolution calls for preventive steps to be considered among which it recommends "a review of canon law to determine whether the canons which govern printed matter and the authorization of the use of the name 'Catholic' can be applied by diocesan Bishops in this regard."
The resolution also suggests "development by local dioceses of criteria for establishing Web sites and for linking Web sites to one another and the designation of appropriate diocesan offices to oversee their application."
Other concerns that the resolution notes are:
- "that sites which do not accurately reflect Church doctrine or devotion not be presented in existing official or semi-official guides as 'Catholic' sites;
- "that the integrity of Church documents not be compromised;
- "that the Church community and the general public not be deceived by individuals who use these means to misrepresent their relation to the Church or to use the name 'Catholic' to exploit extremely vulnerable people and lure them into deceptive and even fraudulent schemes which drain their resources."
The resolution also expresses "profound concern about the immoral uses to which these networks are being put in ways that harm adults and children both, denying them their human dignity and turning them into objects of exploitation. The fact that children are often more computer literate than their parents or guardians can place them at special risk."
The Committee also states that "as these means become necessities for earning one's income or simply going about the activities of daily living, we pledge our support for the poor and vulnerable having access to them."
Noting that "computer networking is a rapidly changing reality," the Committee says that its resolution should not be considered "exhaustive or final."
Committee Chair, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Costello of Syracuse, commenting on the resolution, said that the Committee has regularly discussed the increasing importance that Committee members felt computer networking would play in the life of the Church.
"In the short time since I began my term as chair in 1995, computer networking and the Internet have gone from a topic of conversation among a few interested people, to facts of life for millions," said Bishop Costello.
"While we see computer networking and the Internet as offering tremendous assistance to the work of the Church," Bishop Costello added, "there are also serious concerns about how misinformation, whether Church-related or not, and other harmful material can be spread far and wide instantaneously.
"These concerns were being expressed to the Committee, and we felt an obligation to be on record as ready to deal with both the opportunities and the problems of these new technologies," Bishop Costello said.