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What is the US Catholic Church’s view of the Internet?

Friday 16 October 2015, by SIGNIS

Brussels, Kansas City, October 16th, 2015 (SIGNIS/ NCR online) Late last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled on the question of net neutrality. In essence, the FCC declared the Internet would remain open and free, a public utility available to all.

It was a decision the Catholic Church strongly supports. But a closer look at Catholicism’s view of the Internet reveals a somewhat strained relationship, some of it positive, some of it negative — a relationship that moving forward is largely uncertain.

So what is the Catholic view of the Internet?

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Rev. John Wester

John Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake city, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee said, in a statement supporting the FCC decision: “the Internet is a critical medium for religious speech. From the inception of the Internet until the mid-2000s, Internet service providers were not permitted to discriminate or tamper with what was said over those Internet connections. Today, the FCC restores this protection for speakers, protection particularly important to noncommercial religious speakers."
In many ways, the Church embraces the Internet, such as the pope’s use of Twitter. But in others, it would appear Catholicism takes a more halting approach to life online.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt., told NCR "Many good things can take place. But it can also be used for bad things, like pornography, fraud, drug use, weapons." Coyne, who is the chairman-elect of the USCCB’s Communications Committee, added that the Internet poses a "challenge for communities that involve face-to-face relationships, like parishes." People are "developing habits," he said, whereby they "communicate at a longer distance ... through the use of social media." "What kind of effect that is going to have on our faith communities remains to be seen," he said.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the value of silence as an aspect of communication:
Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary.

In 2014, Pope Francis wrote that "the internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God." But "this is not to say that certain problems do not exist," Francis continued. "The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.”

Thom Gencarelli, past president of the Media Ecology Association and founding chair of the "Next Generation" Communication program at Manhattan College said:"When I look at it, I can’t say it’s all good with respect to humanity moving forward. What I can say is, it’s happening, we’re going to move forward with it."

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