WASHINGTON (January 2, 2000) -- Catholic sisters, brothers, and priests stand among the millions of people seeking connection through the World Wide Web, according to a recent survey of Catholic institutes of consecrated life.
The survey found that the majority of religious communities responding to the poll -- 33 percent of men's institutes and 51 percent of women's institutes -- have Web sites today, with 81 percent of the men's and 56 percent of the women's groups reporting Web sites. Half of these sites were launched within the last year. Of the respondents without Web sites, more than three-quarters have plans underway to develop them.
Popularity of the sites - gauged by the number of hits reported - varies widely. The average monthly hits for men's groups is 1,124 and for women's 970.
Vocation recruitment, ministry information and historical background top the purposes for developing the Web sites.
The Web sites are used more for outreach and recruiting than for communicating with members, according to the survey. About 57 percent of the men's communities responding and 44 percent of the women's communities cite the "general public" as their primary audience. Reaching potential members ranked second.
The survey, which was the first attempt to gather information from religious orders and secular institutes about their use of the World Wide Web, was conducted by the Commission on Religious Life and Ministry.
The Commission includes representatives of the U.S. Bishops, Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Each year the Commission seeks new information on the institutes as part of the Vatican-initiated World Day for Consecrated Life.
The celebration is marked annually in Rome on February 2; in the United States it will be celebrated February 5-6, 2000.
"I'm delighted with the Web sites I've visited," said Bishop Joseph J. Gerry, OSB, of Portland, Maine, a member of the Benedictine order and chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Consecrated Life.
"I'm impressed by how much the religious orders recognize the potential of the Web, especially by sites which use the Web to promote vocations and the sites which are evolving into ministries, including the interactive ones where people bring concerns and requests for prayers to the religious. The world of the Web is growing rapidly and the Church must use it to spread the Gospel."
The Web sites vary in sophistication, with about one-quarter featuring video streaming, slightly less offering interactive elements, and less than 10 percent with audio clips.
Over half the Webmasters in the current sites are members of the institutes. The institutes reported that they promote their Web sites by listing the address in all their materials and publications, registering with search engines, and advertising.
The survey also sought to determine what use religious institutes make of the World Wide Web. Research and news gathering far outstripped other uses - such as shopping, investing, or entertainment - as reasons the religious access the Web.
Nearly one-fifth of the groups reporting said they had special plans for their Web sites for the Jubilee Year 2000. The Jubilee year marks a significant moment for Christians and a time when the U.S. Bishops have urged Catholics in the United States to implement the jubilee theme "Open Wide the Doors to Christ" and to use the moment to evangelize, reconcile, and celebrate.
A sampling of religious order Web addresses is attached.