Holy Father speaks on use of the internet and then … LITURGY

The Holy Father made some comments about the use of the internet.

From AFP:

VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday warned that the Internet does not make people more humane but instead risks increasing a “sense of solitude and disorientation” among “numbed” young people.

“A large number of young people… establish forms of communication that to do not increase humaneness but instead risk increasing a sense of solitude and disorientation,” Benedict told a Vatican conference on culture.

He also said that young people were being “numbed” by the Internet, adding that the technology was creating an “educational emergency — a challenge that we can and must respond to with creative intelligence.”

Benedict last month said the growing use of new technologies should set off “an alarm bell” as it was blurring the boundary between truth and illusion.

Okay, I have seen young people at a table in a restaurant texting other young people at another table in the same restaurant.

There are some loners out there.  True.  But the tools of communication are changing the way people are communicating.  I have been involved in this internet thing for a long time and I have had countless emails from people who express how much it means to them to have a way to connect with other people.  People who are shut in can be connected to the world.  People who are alone don’t have to be wholly alone.  Of course, face to face contact is good.  But this sort of contact is not nothing.

has it this way:

Christian tradition can purify new forms of communication, Pope explains

Vatican City, Nov 13, 2010 / 11:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- New forms of communication must be humanizing or they will increase “confusion and solitude” among their users, Pope Benedict XVI has said. The Church is not indifferent to these innovations but seeks to purify and use them “with critical sense.

His comments came in a Nov. 13 audience at the Vatican with participants in the Pontifical Council for Culture’s four-day conference on the topic “Culture of communications and new languages.”

This year’s discussions were unique for their venue: Capitoline Hill, Rome’s historic center of culture, government and history.

The president of the council for culture, Cardinal-designate Gianfranco Ravasi, explained at a press conference that the choice of venue aimed to bring their work out of the Vatican and into the city among the people.

Discussions ranged from the effects of the internet on modern communications and interpersonal relations to the way people communicate through food. [Sounds like my kind of conference.]

In his audience with the participants, the Pope said that “speaking of communications and language means … not only touching one of the crucial junctions of our world and its cultures, but for us believers, it means getting closer to the very mystery of God who, in his goodness and wisdom, wished to reveal himself and show his will to men.”

He spoke of the “profound cultural transformation” taking place due to the great changes in forms of communication. The Church, he said, is not “indifferent” to these changes, [something not immediately apparent] but “on the contrary, seeks to avail itself with renewed creative commitment, [!?!] but also with critical sense and attentive discernment, of new languages and ways of communication.”

The Church wishes to enter into dialogue with all people in the world, he said. But, to reach people today, especially young people, it must “tune in” to the same frequency.

“Today not few young people, stunned by the infinite possibilities offered by information networks or by other technologies, establish forms of communication that do not contribute to growth in humanity, but risk rather to increase the sense of solitude and confusion,” the pontiff warned.

He explained that education is needed to promote a “humanizing communication.” [That sounds a little vaporous.  So… HOW do we do what the Holy Father says?  I have my ideas.]

The Church can turn to the Gospel and Christian tradition to “guide, purify, clean and elevate” new forms of communications, he explained. [BUT NOW LOOK AT THIS!!] “In particular the rich and dense symbolism of the liturgy must shine in all its force as a communicative element, until it touches the human conscience, the heart and the intellect profoundly.”  [Isn’t this exactly what I have been talking about?]

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  1. ThomasL says:

    “But the tools of communication are changing the way people are communicating. ”

    That statement is definitely true, but, as a member of that younger generation, I’m not sure it’s for the better. I actually have to agree completely with the Holy Father’s warning. From my experience, I can wholly attest to the sense of numbness and isolation that I have felt after I wasted time surfing the ‘net or facebook. And I promise I don’t spend nearly as much time on these things as most of my peers. New media can be a useful tool when kept in the proper perspective. Let’s just not lose sight of its drawbacks.

  2. I think part of what he is getting at is that so much time is spent speed reading texts, posts, etc., on current events, how does that compare to time that is spent doing wholesome reading of things – things that help us to form right reason.

    I spend far less time doing wholesome reading than I would like … because too much time is spent on the internet. Which reminds me… k … bai…. got a book to go read.

  3. I meant to add that it’s not just time not spent doing wholesome reading, but time not spent in real conversation.

    Dinner with the family has changed. I might manage to get a bunch of family around the dinner table for a holiday, but everybody is texting people either at the table, or at other people’s dinner tables.

    I find that whole experience disappointing and it does nothing to foster closeness among family and friends when it goes down that way.

  4. Microtouch says:

    If it weren’t for the internet we wouldn’t have this blog. I would have to say the Compline and Rosarium with out the aid of Traditional Catholic Radio. I would not be able to hear last Sunday’s sermons from other churches on my Ipod. I also found numerous old or antique books of prayers, encyclicals, music. and on and on and on. I don’t do facebook or any of that sort. A waste of time I should think but that’s me. I try to educate myself but I am not interested in socializing on the net. But I am very appreciative of what the internet has to offer.

  5. In Verbum Domini that just came out, the Pope talks about both sides of the equation, but insists that “In the world of the internet… the Face of Christ needs to be seen and His voice heard….”

    It’s #363 paragraph, in the section on culture.

  6. LawrenceK says:

    Like many of the commenters above, I have encountered extremely helpful things on the internet, extremely harmful things, and many purely distracting things.

    But I have also noticed that my ability to read a single text continuously has decreased. When I was a child and a teenager, I could spend hours reading a single book. But now, after a decade and a half on the internet, I expect to be able to click on links. The very best internet sites are non-linear. The very best articles on Wikipedia or the Catholic Encyclopedia offer links to facilitate any digression you like. A few days ago, I read the Wikipedia page on the Gunpowder Plot, and from there I jumped to Google Books’ text of King James’ speech after the plot (in early modern English), and his comments on “not all Catholics are guilty, because most Catholics don’t understand the Church’s teachings, which are evil” made me think of the debate about terrorism and Islam, so I opened up my Facebook page to bring this topic up with some friends (and some “Friends”), and then that led to more links.

    None of these were unimportant; they were all informative.

    But after years of doing this, when I sit down with one book, and try to read it in a linear fashion from beginning to end, I get impatient after about 30 minutes. Is that what all this surfing has done to my reading ability?

  7. kab63 says:

    I am not a young person; perhaps “young” is a critical description in the Holy Father’s words. As a middle-aged person I have reunited, through facebook, with a best friend from 8th grade Catholic school. She has been an amazing touchstone for me throughout the past year and we would never have connected without the internet. I want to say that the internet is a tool open to good or abuse, depending on usage, but I don’t want to discount our Pope’s words. Perhaps the young are particularly vulnerable?

  8. PostCatholic says:

    I think truly innovative technology draws people into closer communication and makes the world a little smaller. When I was a child, a five minute call to Europe by telephone was ruinously expensive. Last night I spoke to a friend in Montenegro for an hour and half through my computer headset for free. When I graduated high school, I kept in touch with classmates on and off at reunions; now I see new photos of their children every day on Facebook. When I left a job in the past, that was that and I eventually would lose touch with coworkers as they moved on in their careers. Now I can look up people on Google or LinkedIn and even collaborate long-distance on new ventures in real time with a few. These things are a net gain to relationships in a society; I think they will “contribute to growth in humanity.”

    I don’t think the Pope is wrong to point to the potential for technology to isolate, and that is certainly an area for “critical sense and attentive discernment.” But for the most part people don’t seem to be interested in using technology to isolate themselves but rather to be more open to and communicative with the people in their lives.

  9. When I was a child and a teenager, I could spend hours reading a single book……But after years of doing this, when I sit down with one book, and try to read it in a linear fashion from beginning to end, I get impatient after about 30 minutes. Is that what all this surfing has done to my reading ability?

    Bingo. That is what happened to me. It’s like I don’t have the patience to sit down and read a book. I want to do it, but I get caught up on the web. What feels like 15 minutes is an hour and what is like 30 minutes turns into 2 hours. Good things happen, but it is the same kind of thing. I sense a loss of something by not getting off the web enough.

  10. TNCath says:

    Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “A large number of young people… establish forms of communication that to do not increase humaneness but instead risk increasing a sense of solitude and disorientation…”

    As a high school English and Latin teacher for over 20 years who is in the trenches every day with young people, the Holy Father is 110% correct.

    I just finished reading 120 essays over irony in Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Cask of Amontillado.” Never in my life have I read such horrendously written essays. These students live in a world where text messaging, Facebook, MySpace, (I refer to these “social networks” as “My Face,” to the delight of my students) have become de rigeur in the culture. As a result, students are incapable of forming complete thoughts in the form of formal written communication. While the Internet has certainly made communication faster, I’m not so sure it has made communication more effective. Our young people have an infinite amount of information available thanks to the Internet, but, as a result, they are retaining and using very little knowledge.

  11. Jacob says:

    For those interested on how the Web is affecting the brain:
    I do agree that surfing all the time does have its effects. It has on me. But at the same time, I am in a situation where I have weigh those drawbacks against what I gain.

    Losing my hearing as a young adult was pretty traumatic in a number of ways, not least of which was cutting me off in most ways from parish life. I’d be a pretty poor and ignorant Catholic right now if I didn’t have the Web and blogs like Father Z’s for news, information and education.

  12. JakeT says:

    I find it interesting that the comments on this post are of great length. This is an issue that certainly touches a nerve with many people. It is worth stepping back and listening to the Holy Father’s main point. I think, but I am happy to be corrected, that he is in lock step with a book from the 1980’s by Neil Postman called “Entertaining Ourselves to Death.” Postman’s work was about the television culture, but in the text he insisted that the form of communication can never be separated from the content. At the same time people receive information they also receive the form of communication. For instance, a child who watches television is not only learning his ABC’s but he is also learning that this is HOW one learns. The end result of this is an entire generation of students who expect that learning should be accompanied by entertaining antics. Postman also concludes that this volunteer submission of ourselves to a culture of entertainment is not all that different from the elective “soma” coma of Huxley’s Brave New World.

    While Postman’s book is about TV, the same is true for the internet culture. The problems with Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, etc., are not to be regulated to the “abuse” of these technologies. No, the forms themselves have intrinsic problem, and they will over time form how people think about essential things such as the human person, relationship, authentic communication, and ultimately all of reality. Note that this doesn’t mean that such forms cannot be used for “good” purposes, but it does mean that the good purposes and good results do not negate the fact that the recipient is simultaneously being formed by the method of communication, and in the case of most internet forms, the method is intrinsically flawed.

    Not to shamelessly self-promote, but this is a topic I am very much interested in, and I wrote extensively about it here. The title of my own article is modified from the Postman title: “Facebooking Ourselves to Death.”

  13. thereseb says:

    “….communicate through food. [Sounds like my kind of conference.]”

    I see you are feeling better today.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    Several points. As a teacher of college students, I have seen a great change in the “socialization” of my students. Firstly, this is the first generation, according to psychologists, in America, which has more introverts than extroverts. I believe this is not merely genetic, but learned behavior, because of the computer. My students simply do not know how to act. They have no boundaries, are rude, and cannot relate to authority, or even each other. That is the down side and a huge problem.

    Secondly, although I use the Internet daily, I do so because I have no intimate conservative or traddie regular friends in the area. I am sure this is true for many of us. Most of my trad friends are either really involved in their still-growing families, are introverted themselves, far away or all three. The Latin Mass I go to is mostly attended by people who live twenty-plus miles from the church and from another state altogether. Although we have a pot-luck once a month, and I attend, since moving here three months ago, I have had only three phone calls from the same family. People do not reach out, and I have tried, and failed, so I resort to Internet relationships. Living in an extremely liberal area and coming from a liberal family does not help.

    Thirdly, the only way I can get Catholic news or updates is from blogs like this one. Our local Catholic news rag still carries Father McBrien and is run by ultra-liberals. Without the Internet, I would be in no-man’s land for news. I check out all the pro-life news online, plus conservative news online, as that is the only way I can get it. I do not have a television, nor do I want one. Our local secular newspaper is run by a homosexual coterie and has been rapidly liberal for over twenty years. There is no Catholic radio station within radio reach here.

    Fourthly, the Internet connects me with Rome. In a diocese where the majority of priests are disobedient in some way or another, including life issues, homosexual issues,liberation theology, and women priests, I must find what the Vatican teaches online on a regular basis.

    The final outcome of this comment is that without the Internet, I would be terribly isolated as a trad, conservative Catholic. Not all of us have the luxury of an immediate Catholic community.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    Re: local secular newspaper–rabidly, not rapidly, and may I add, openly anti-Catholic. The scandals did not help, of course. But each, newly discovered scandal has been the first page story, and this has been the case for over five years. Very sad…

  16. Tony Layne says:

    I’ve seen both sides of the equation. For instance, through Facebook I’ve managed to get and stay in touch with high-school classmates, some of whom I haven’t seen for over 28 years, as well as with disparate friends and family members (a couple of which—wives of cousins—I haven’t even met yet). In this way, I’ve managed somewhat to bring my social support network with me when I moved from Nebraska to Texas. The Internet has also plugged me into a wider network of fellow Catholics that counterpoints and complements the relationships I’ve been developing through the Knights of Columbus.

    On the other hand, I’ll never forget seeing students at the UNT-Navy game who were too busy texting friends to watch the game. I can see a use for texting … but I can also see where it would just make more sense to call the other person and actually talk to him/her. (The Windows Phone commercials really speak to this point very well!) We’re seeing an increased problem with obesity in children as well as the lack of social development Supertradmum speaks of, due in no small part to the pernicious omnipresence of video/computer games which keep kids glued in one spot even more effectively than the “boob tube”. I’m not entirely sure the positives outweigh the negatives.

    Like any other technological innovation, we have to recognize the strengths and limitations of the new social media, take the claimed benefits cum grano salis, and beware of becoming too dependent on any one medium or device.

  17. Technological innovations aren’t bad per se, but every new technology changes culture in various ways. As regards communication, no medium is neutral. Oral culture is different from print culture is different from TV culture is different from Internet culture. Various media do different things, carry various values *intrinsically in themselves* (think how the Internet might print the ephemeral image, while print generally has privileged reason and logic), and promote epistemological changes in the cultures into which they’re introduced. Put differently, you can’t separate form and content absolutely.

    I’m concerned (with many others) that the Internet is fundamentally Gnostic. Everything and everyone becomes an ephemeral image to everyone else. The liturgy, by contrast, is Incarnational to the core, the Eucharist, that blessed token of the Incarnation, being at its center.

    I think people that are overly excited to seize on “new media” and such don’t fully appreciate the fact that tech isn’t neutral, and are thinking in subtly utilitarian and pragmatic ways.

    Not saying we should abdicate from tech absolutely, or (Deus avertat!) stop reading Fr. Z. But we have to be critically aware of how technology affects culture, communication and communion.

    Best place to start? Read everything Marshall McLuhan (a faithful Catholic) and Neil Postman ever wrote. Then some Walter Ong.

  18. robtbrown says:


    I agree with much of what you wrote, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with being an introver–it is merely someone whose motivation comes from within rather than from without. When I was studying psychology back in the 80’s, I noticed that many psychologists thought there was too much pressure in American culture to be an extrovert.

    What we’re experiencing now is life in unstructured society, in which institutions are not trusted.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    I agree. I am an introvert myself, but we need excellent leaders to lead our country, and if the pioneer spirit is gone, we shall not have the leaders we need right now.

  20. mike cliffson says:

    What do they know of internet who only internet know? I mean, 300 sites on internet can repeat the same evanescent(is that the right word?) lie, and so one needs a nose for the truth, like the mental arithmetic you do to see if the calculator has at least given you an answer about the right order of magnitude , or better, let alone christian discernment ,product of prayer and the scribe with old and new etc, which is bringing to internet from outside it.
    That said, it aint half handy: but half an hour ago a friend was worried about some Spanish MSM spin on what the Holy father said in Santiago and Barcelona , Bob’s your uncle, vatican website and there , in spanish are all his sermons addresses, interview on the plane, the lot. Sype beats phone calls hollow keeping up withour eldest away studying, let alone cheaper.
    You can find the truth on internet, maybe you have to look, my blood pressure isn’t up to the dead tree press , radio tv etc locally available -I usually hit apalpable lie on somthing or other after 3or4 minutes maximum, regarding the church even when it’s the truth (part of it)ministerio de justicia it is spun ,twisted, cherrypicked, commented, analyzed, bent folded or spindled out of recognition.
    As for things like porn, people whose virtual reality takes over their own reality, I’ve personally known cases, youngsters who “know about”, but never experience, intelligent people accepting the shallowest arguments….and such like-all too true .

  21. robtbrown says:

    Supertradmum says:

    I agree. I am an introvert myself, but we need excellent leaders to lead our country, and if the pioneer spirit is gone, we shall not have the leaders we need right now.

    Introversion and politics aren’t mutully exclusive. Eisenhower was probably an introvert.

  22. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I love Pope Benedict: so wise. and succinct. He is just so, so… right on target.

    Yes it is true that technology can enable a dysfunctional, shallow, self-serving type of ‘connection’ with others.

    On the other hand, the internet has put me in touch with other wonderful, thinking, conscientious Catholics that otherwise I never would have known. This wdtprs blog for instance has done wonders.

    I pray that the positive influences flourish on the internet, and the evil wither.

    [*waving hi* to all of you fellow readers!!!]

  23. The Cobbler says:

    I’m too young to have any control group for comparison, but I wonder in how much of this is the internet the cause and not merely the occasion — specifically, what’s missing in our communities on the ground that people my age tend to find the ‘net easier to immerse in. I suppose some people would trace it back to the abandonment of corporeal punishment, meaning you can’t just rein in youngsters who don’t bother to keep themselves in line and growing; I suppose, going deeper and at the same time not hinging it on corporeal punishment specifically, there’s something to the notion that today’s youth are living in a world that only requires superficial things of them. (Frankly, I’m rather sick of the superficiality of the world, the hoops one jumps through to get non-trivial things and the trivialities that are taken seriously.) On the other hand, one odd thing I’m wondering is how much of the trouble is in the design of the modern city, where you live in one area, work in another, and have a full community in niether. And then, some of what we’re seeing is aftershocks of breakdown from the cultural revolution; if you thought kids had trouble respecting their elders in the old days, how much more will they disrespect elders who rejected the notion of respect (among other things), and if they’re on their own and hate adults they’ll be all the more immature, and if they’re immature they seem to each other less worth associating with except in the relative safety of the virtual world where you can block anyone whom you decide you dislike.

    In short, I think the trouble with the internet is the final phase of a much deeper cultural collapse. Like most final phases, it looks particularly gruesome compared to the previous ones. However, I suspect we need to get back to the root to defeat it: restore community, restore respect so people can at least stand each other in real life, and figure out how to get kids to want (that’s an important part) to use the internet to download Shakespeare’s plays to read at length — or even download performances to watch at length (I have a friend who’s always sending me clips of opera, in a related vein) — rather than spend hours watching thirty second YouTube clips.

    P.S. How’s this for now-obscure English knowledge: I previewed my comment and corrected “reign in” to “rein in.” Horses vs. kings… yay! (Not to be confused with “yea,” which is not to be confused with “yeah,” which in turn is not to be confused with “ja,” although these three all broadly mean “yes.”)

    P.P.S. I love “The Cask of Amontillado,” and would almost be tempted to write essays on it if I had more than a modicum of spare time, despite the fact that I dislike essays for formatical and logical reasons — they seem, in my experience, to create the illusion of having a more formal or more validly formatted argument than one actually has, and to unduly limit analyzing anything at length; maybe the twenty different ways I was taught to write them were all “wrong” to some extent? — but I digress…

  24. JakeT says:


    This is exactly the point I was trying to make a few comments above. Kudos for your reference to Postman. I tried to email you but did not have “access” to your site.

  25. irishgirl says:

    Supertradmum @ 10:01 11/14: You are so right! I am in the same boat as you.
    I don’t have TV since everything went digital last year. If I want to watch something, say EWTN, I go on their website. That’s how I’ve been able to see things like the Holy Father’s travels.
    I don’t have Facebook or any of those other social-networking sites. I just know how to turn my laptop on, do email and surf! I don’t Twitter, and even though I have a cell phone, I don’t do text-messaging! I usually keep the phone off anyway.
    There is good stuff on the Internet [blogs like Father Z’s, for instance], and I stick with those. And of course there’s trash on the Net….I stay away from the trash.
    I know some Traditional Catholics who avoid the Internet like the plague–that’s their prerogative. You have to use the common sense and the brain that God gave you to know what’s good and what’s bad.

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