Catholic Church needs more Internet savvy: bishop

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The Independent Online

The Roman Catholic Church should leave its "ghetto" and recognise the importance and reach of the Internet, a French bishop said Thursday.

"The Internet is increasingly an integral part of everyday life," Monsignor Jean-Michel Di Falco said at the start of a four-day Vatican meeting of European Catholic bishops concerned with the media.

"By not being present (on the Web), you cut yourself off from a large part of people's lives," added the bishop of Gap, in southeastern France.

He noted three events involving the Church that have "shaken Planet Internet" in recent months: the lifting of the ex-communication of a Holocaust-denying bishop; the ex-communication of a doctor who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old rape victim; and remarks by Pope Benedict XVI about condom use and AIDS in Africa.

The pope himself stated at the height of the affair involving British Bishop Richard Williamson that a simple check on the Internet would have quickly revealed his views on the Holocaust.

Representatives from the social network Facebook, the Google search engine, the YouTube video sharing website and the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia are guests at this year's meeting of the European Episcopal Commission for Media, a Swiss-based Vatican agency.

The Web "shuffles the deck, makes us step down from our pedestal, from our magisterial chair and makes us come out of our ghettos," said Di Falco.

"Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, lay people - with the Internet we enter a marketplace, a free and spontaneous space where everything is said about everything, where everyone can debate everything," he added.

"We should promote a Christian presence on the Web made up of operators including priests who of course master communication techniques but also provide spaces for research, encounters, dialogue and prayer," Di Falco said.

Participants will also learn ways to combat cyber-crime, with sessions led by a young Swiss hacker and an Interpol expert.

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