Archbishop Foley´s Address for Communications Day

Internet Gives New Meaning to «Deus ex Machina»

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VIENNA, Austria, JUNE 7, 2001 ( Here is the text of an address Tuesday by Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, for the celebration of World Communications Days.

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Your Eminence, Cardinal Schoenborn, Mr. Leitenberger, my fellow communicators:

More than a dozen years ago, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications at the Vatican decided that it was important to use computer technology at the service of the Church — to distribute documents in a timely manner, to receive news quickly and to establish a means of sharing information from and with Rome and among bishops´ conferences.

We thought that it might be considered somewhat neo-colonial to impose such a system from Rome or from the developed world in general, and so we began working with the Church in Latin America to develop a type of computer culture in which information could be received and shared and in which the technicians themselves would develop a special ecclesial spirit.

Thus was born RIIAL, la Red Informatica de la Iglesia in America Latina, the information network of the Church in Latin America.

Coordinated by our Council and by CELAM, the Latin American bishops´ conference, the RIIAL has developed a number of capabilities:

— sharing information from and with Rome and among the bishops´ conferences and indeed dioceses of Latin America;
— providing a source of important documentation, not only recent Church statements but also biblical and patristic studies which can be useful in seminaries and universities;
— offering an opportunity for the development of programs for sacramental records;
— stimulating the development of a Spanish-language information service for the Church;
— developing useful directories;
— forming a generation of church officials and technicians who have a vision of the Church which is both contemporary and Catholic — in all senses of the term.

When the Internet began to become an important phenomenon, I called our Vatican post and telegraphic service to find out what they were doing to get an Internet address. They said that they were thinking about it, but that we were free to pursue the question.

We applied to the Internet hierarchy not only for a site but for a domain — .va. They wanted us to become part of the domain — .it. or .ord. or even .com. We, however, maintained that the Vatican is an independent country and should be entitled to its own domain — which was happily granted — so now you can have access to the Vatican web site by clicking on to The e-mail address of our department is

Why did I insist on the .va domain? I already indicated that the Vatican is an independent country, the smallest in the world, and is thus entitled to such consideration. Even more important, however, was my conviction that it was essential to have a place from which people could receive information which they could be sure is authentic. There are many sites claiming to be Catholic; there are even some sites claiming to represent the Vatican — but we are the only domain with .va — and so anything with that identification can be received with the assurance that it is truly authentic — truly Catholic — truly from the Vatican.

That does not mean that many other sites related to the Catholic Church are not authentic — especially those connected with bishops´ conferences or dioceses. It merely means that the .va domain is a guarantee of authenticity which others cannot have because they operate in a competitive world in which non-authentic sites which seek to give the impression of being Catholic have been developed or at least applied for.
<br> In fact, because our RIIAL project was developed with the marvelous cooperation of the Italian Bishops´ Conference before the existence of our Vatican site and domain, we do have another site, In this site, we have the participation of all the entities I indicated earlier. All are truly Catholic, but not all are official organisms of the Holy See or of the Vatican, and so it would not be appropriate for them to use the domain.

In the context of such legitimate diversity, what can the Church offer on the Internet?

Jesus gave to His Church the mandate to teach all nations. The Internet offers the Church the opportunity to make available to everyone in the world with access to the Internet the saving message of Jesus Christ. In societies which will not permit the presence of priests or sisters or brothers or even lay missionaries, the Internet can bring to those engaged in a spiritual search or even to those who are merely curious an opportunity for information and inspiration to which they otherwise would not have access.

In a manner which has not yet been fully and formally developed by the Church, the Internet offers an opportunity for dialogue, for response to questions, for interactive instruction and even for pastoral counseling. It does not offer the opportunity for on-line confession — which must always be done in the sacramental context of personal encounter.

Do problems exist on and with the Internet?

They certainly do.

There exist problems of invasion of privacy, violation of copyright, distribution of pornography, exposure to sexual predators and to those interested in larceny. There also exists the problem of a type of addiction to the Internet in which young people especially can be tempted to spend hours in front of their computer screens in pursuit of unending distraction.

Like all communications media, however, the Internet offers more opportunities for good than temptations to evil. It is all a question of how we use it.

For that reason, our Pontifical Council for Social Communications is engaged in the development of two possible documents — one, like our recent documents «Ethics in Advertising» and «Ethics in Communications», will be devoted to ethics in Internet and will be addressed to all persons of good will regarding concerns which we share about the responsible use of this powerful new instrument of communication; the other will be devoted to the effective use of the Internet by the Church itself as a marvelous instrument for evangelization and pastoral service.

For me, the evangelization and education possibilities of the Internet give new meaning to the classical theatrical idea — «deus ex machina». From a machine which began its existence as an instrument of mathematical calculation and which developed into an instrument for composition, we now have a machine capable of being connected with the world and of bringing to us a message which can change our lives forever, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.

May our use of the Internet be always worthy of being offered to God and be often in the service of His saving word! Thank you.

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