Some `official' Catholic blogs are hateful, priest claims
By Pat Byrne Casey
Special to The B.C. Catholic
VANCOUVER--"We have a generation that does not know how to relate to other human beings," said Father Thomas Rosica, CSB.
Internet and cellular communication, pervasive in today's world, must be used vigilantly if we are to benefit from them while still controlling their destructive power, he said. "The technology is neutral, but its application is not."
This message was at the heart of a discussion between Father Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media, and a group of students and faculty who assembled at Plato's Cave on the UBC campus March 21.
Father Rosica, director of World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002, said he knew a web presence was integral to its success, and today Salt and Light relies on Facebook, Twitter, blogging and YouTube to fulfill its vision of bringing people closer to Christ and the Catholic faith. However, the 35 young people on staff were hired not only for their technological savvy, he said, but because they are very good in human relations, a quality which he sees somewhat lacking in youth today.
During more than two decades as a professor and lecturer, Father Rosica said, he has noted a phenomenal difference in the way post-graduate and younger students communicate.
Facebook, for instance, purports to bring people closer together but may actually do nothing to relieve the emptiness they feel. Facebook is quantitative, not qualitative, he said. He told the story of one student: "This girl had spun herself into a frenzy because she had 400 friends and her friend had 1,400 friends." You just can't know that many "friends."
Many in the group said Facebook was convenient for sharing non-urgent information, advertising, staying in touch, or getting people together, but some said it was "a way to waste time."
Social networks can serve as a school of solidarity, said Father Rosica, but their use requires prudence, wisdom, and reflection, qualities often missing in the rapid-fire communication that people expect today.
"Patience and waiting are not part of the lexicon of these things," he said, and time for reflection is gone in our instant society.
"Today's weapon of mass destruction is the computer and keyboard, and the `reply all' button is the most deadly thing. Suddenly 75 people are aware of something that would not have been said in any other way."
Pope Benedict XVI is fascinated by Facebook, said Father Rosica, and raised the topic at a recent meeting with cardinals and bishops.
"The Pope is still old-school but he is very aware of this stuff. Most likely his successor will be different," said Father Rosica, noting that cardinals today commonly use electronic devices. He said at meetings to plan World Youth Day their heads would drop, making him think they were very prayerful. Before long he discovered they weren't pausing in prayer, but checking their electronic devices.
The priest said he has trouble keeping up with other media and is not on Facebook. He said he recently viewed the movie Social Network and came away shaking, not with joy but with trepidation.
We have to ask ourselves, he said, why the Internet exerts such an influence on our behaviour. YouTube's tagline, "Broadcast Yourself," seems to compel us to expose ourselves in a way we would never do otherwise.
Nothing is ever erased from Facebook, and it may even be used as legal evidence. "Once you put something on Facebook, it's there forever."
Prudence and modesty have also declined with cell phone use, he said. People discuss personal affairs on the phone in public. "Technology enhances or multiplies frailty or stupidity."
The Internet can be used for apologetics, he said, but web surfers must be cautious; there are some instant web theologians and some distortions of papal teaching. It's necessary to ask who is behind a website before accepting its content.
Many sites purport to be "the real Catholic," he said, but some of the most hateful, vindictive, vitriolic stuff is in "official" Catholic blogs. We must be willing to go back to the sources, to the Pope's words and teachings. Otherwise we perpetuate nonsense. "We need an intellectual GPS to point us to the way that is authentic."
Father Rosica stressed the importance of "relating to people one on one," and said we don't yet know what effect growing up in a wired world will have on today's children.
"Technology is extremely helpful because it has put things at our fingertips. But if it takes us from being attentive to people it's not good."