Pope Benedict XVI has given his blessing to the World Wide Web, and social networking in particular, but has told Catholic bloggers, Facebookers and Tweeters to watch what they write online.
In an address for the Message of His Holiness for the 45th World Communications Day, named ‘Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age’, the Pope urged Catholics to use discretion when communicating on the internet.
The Pope more or less gave his blessing to the internet and the social media revolution, but cautioned Catholics about making their online prothletising all about ‘getting hits’.
"We must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its ‘popularity’ or from the amount of attention it receives,” wrote Benedict.
He urged Catholics to avoid the temptation to indulge in divisive rhetoric and to instead seek to project a profile of tempered, balanced Catholicism.
"There exists a Christian way of communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others,” he wrote.
"To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it.”
He also warned that Catholics should be careful not to replace real life relationships with online ones.
"The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks. Who is my ‘neighbour’ in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world ‘other’ than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.”
The address was delivered on the feast day of the patron saint of journalists, Saint Francis de Sales.