United States Catholic Conference
Resolution on Computer Networking
Pope John Paul II 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" (cf. "Redemptoris Missio," #37c). 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 Committee on Communications of the United States Catholic Conference wishes, by this resolution, to affirm the value of these new means. We also wish to identify some concerns about their potential misuse which can divert them away from service to the truth and to the common good.
With regard to their use within the Church community, many dioceses, parishes, religious communities, schools, and other Church institutions and organizations are already effectively employing these new means. An outstanding example is the Holy See's establishment of its Web site. By the convenient and almost instantaneous communications they make possible, these new means help bring about an enhanced sense of working together, whether in a pastoral center, a diocese, or a far-flung religious community. This conquest of time and space offers new ways to gather people together for a common purpose. We encourage an extensive exchange of information and ideas among Church leaders and communicators about creative uses of computer networking and the Internet for service to the Church's pastoral mission.
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.
At the same time, we wish to raise up our concerns about the possible abuses of computer networking.
Our principal concern is 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. Among the preventive steps which ought to be considered are:
- 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;
- 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;
- development, maintenance, and promotion by the Conference, in consultation with local dioceses, of a list of reliably Catholic sites on the Internet.
Related concerns 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.
These new means of communications can also make an important contribution to the common good of society. Their use should enhance the unity of the human family rather than increase its divisions.
Thus we urge that the capacity of these new means for the nearly instantaneous dispersal of information world-wide be employed with a commitment to the truth and to the common good.
We also wish to express our 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.
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.
Computer networking is a rapidly changing reality. This articulation of concerns should not be construed to be exhaustive or final. In order to affirm the importance of these means of communications and to raise up our concerns in a timely fashion, we limit ourselves at present to this brief resolution.