Pope’s online advice applies to all of us

By | February 2, 2011

Some argue they were exercising their freedom of speech; others believe they approached a work related issue improperly.

As the popularity of online social networking grows, especially with the use of handheld devices such as smartphones, more incidents of people hastily posting negative, derogatory and inflammatory comments on Web sites will occur. One only needs to read the comments section of online newspapers to see how some feel that anonymity gives them a license to say things they would never dare to say in front of their children or spouses.

This problem is one of the concerns Pope Benedict XVI addressed last week when he released his 2011 World Communications Day message. The annual observance will be celebrated June 5.

In his message, titled “Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age,” Pope Benedict expressed words of support for social networking while cautioning against “constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.”

“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,” he wrote. At the same time, he said, people can lose their focus on reality when staring at a computer screen, which leads to self indulgence.

The pope suggested a “Christian way” of online interaction, one in which people are “honest and open, responsible and respectful of others.”

This message should resonate with the masses who use Twitter and Facebook to post opinions for friends and followers to read. In addition, it is sound advice for Catholics who represent their faith as communicators.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, suggested that the pope’s message was also directed at Catholic related Web sites and blogs that sometimes lack civility in their content.

One example would be the Reform CCHD Now Coalition. The group has advocated for reforms in the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty initiative, Catholic Campaign for Human Development. CCHD works with grassroots organizations to eliminate poverty. While Reform CCHD has assisted the U.S. bishops in reviewing and restructuring CCHD policies, the coalition has at times crossed the line of fairness.

Last year, the coalition smeared the reputation of John Carr, who oversees the CCHD.

On its Web site, the coalition quoted Michael Hichborn of the American Life League. “The closer we look at the bishops’ conference (staff and programs), the more we find a systemic pattern of cooperation with evil,” said Hichborn. “The CCC has lodged itself into the highest places of power in the USCCB while working to promote abortion and homosexuality.”

CCC stands for Center for Community Change. Carr served as chairman of the center’s board until 2005. “My experience with CCC was that it focused on poverty, housing and immigration and had no involvement in issues involving abortion and homosexuality,” Carr told Catholic News Service last February. “When I served, the board never discussed or acted on any position involving these matters, and if they had, I would have vigorously opposed any advocacy for access to abortion or gay marriage.”

Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., who chairs the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed disappointment with Reform CCHD’s statement. “I’m concerned about these attacks on John Carr and I know they are false and I think they are even calumnious.”

While the Packers may have to rein in their players’ use of social networking, Pope Benedict will have a much loftier challenge ahead of him.

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