The challenges of moving from print to digital

From Catholic Culture comes this.  My emphases:

Vatican newspaper: reflections on future of Catholic publishing

In an essay that appeared in the June 6-7 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the director of the Madrid-based Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos reflected upon the challenges facing Catholic publishers in the digital age.

“When printing was invented, the publication of books was controlled by a king, by the universities or in the hands of professional printers,” writes Jorge Fernandez Sangrador. “And if a new idea was born, a new book was written, so that the ideas of others expressed before or at the same time remained in other books. The objective of this was to allow for a permanence of a thought upon which, through integration or opposition, culture was constructed.”

He adds:

With the advent of the electronic book, how is this function exercised? How is the authenticity of a text of the Word of God, of the prayers of the Church or the Catechism guaranteed? The written word, guarded by the Church, needs to be transmitted in all of its purity to future generations. Decisive steps are now needed to clarify how to provide this service to the truth in an electronic universe.

It is by now clear that many younger people willingly receive their information from off screen, rather than the pages of books or other printed formats.  Smaller publishers will have a real challenge overcoming printing costs and, in some cases, mailing costs.

Down the line, will we be able to tell what it what?  Will their have to be an electronic certificate of authenticity papal documents, for example, to ensure that the document is what it claims to be?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tzard says:

    re: “Will their have to be an electronic certificate of authenticity papal documents, for example, to ensure that the document is what it claims to be?”

    Yes. However, current signing technology is becoming obsolete. things *can* be forged. But it’s like a lock on your front door – it’s a deterrent, and a reasonable assurance of the accuracy.

    But Modern Cryptography/authentication has some other ups and downs – if a valid certificate is required to decrypt it, bad or obsolete copies can be instantly “revoked” – but then you have to ask – is the ones holding the key truly representing the one holding the “keys”? If you know what I mean.

  2. theophilus says:

    All I know is that copyright is not the answer. It restricts the dissemination of the Word of God. For instance, the NAB, NABRE, RSV-CE, etc. and even the Catechism all have super restrictive copyrights which prevent Catholics from teaching in new and innovative ways online. That is why 99% of the bible programs out there are protestant/evangelical. If I were to put the NAB in my bible study program, I would be breaking the law. So much for the new evangelization in the digital age.

    As long as the Holy See actually posts the original information on their website for reference. That should be enough for the curious to check back for accuracy. Sort of like that platinum 1 kilogram block France uses as a reference for the rest of the world. The honor system worked for thousands of years. It still works. If there is a problem with the text, the word will get out.

  3. Boanerges says:

    Just as in surveying, courts and otherwise, the Church will still need an authentic original and signed manuscript from which digital copies can be compared. For this reason, I believe, we will never see the obsolescence of the “written” word.

  4. Agree with Boanerges. There is also the fact that the simplest form of technology — writing — is the most durable. Electronic media become obsolete — not so much because the information on disks, drives, etc. deteriorates, but because the technology needed to read it becomes obsolete and difficult to find.

  5. Obviously, if you’re looking for official papal documents, you look at I don’t think that’s going to change; it will probably only increase.

  6. Yes, there should be a clear procedure for electronic Church Documents to be published in an authenticated, verifiable form; this would be nothing new, of course, as Papal Bulls e.g. got called bulls after the dangling wax or lead sigils attached to them; this is what signet rings are for!

    There is, of course, some trickiness involved in maintaining control of anything so visible, but as tzard says, these things aren’t offered as total protections, they’re devices for keeping honest people honest.

  7. In reply to Miss Anita Moore, OP;
    I also agree with Boanerges: immediately-legible hand-made documents will never be obsolete, and have been backbone tools of Tradition from Moses’ day. However, data objects “in the internet” are something thoroughly different from files on one hard-drive or one CD: the internet has become a useful medium in itself for back-up and transfer of data objects. Observe the easy availability of Fred Astaire film clips on YouTube! Yes, the master for all these clips is (or ought to be) in a refrigerated vault under the care of skilled archivists and engineers, but we’re not in danger of losing Fred’s dancing, should the vault burn down.

  8. CDNowak says:

    1) L’Osservatore addressing a current and future issue?! Amazing!

    2) A large portion of what is fueling the information revolution (including, but not limited to e-books) is the fact that the gatekeepers are gone. Anyone can turn their intellectual capital into wealth without feeding a corporate or governmental beast, or surrendering their moral rights to the fruits of their labor.

    As theophilius points out, safeguarding accuracy is as simple as being the most convenient source of the information (, provided that documents are available in languages other than Hungarian). The official .pdf of the Latin original would be the standard for comparison.

    For historical, archival purposes, yes the written printed version will continue to have value, but for any practical purpose it is the official version on the official site that has the most value.

  9. BLB Oregon says:

    I think the danger is actually less than when the texts were written out by hand. In those times, a scribe could add or subtract, and there would be too few other copies, and many or most of the copies distant from each other, for most recipients of the new copy to know the difference. These days, if an errant copy is published on the internet, it can be caught and corrections can go out as soon as the first day. When books were written out, and a priest wanted to change the words, who would or could know better in his parish? These days, anyone can go home, look up the original on the Vatican web site or consult with a reliable authority directly, and have a letter of protest circling the planet’s network of computers by noon. (Resulting in a plethora of opinions, accusations, and rash judgments which I believe will present a thornier challenge than forgeries ever could.)

    Then, as now, the ultimate guard against all of this is that Our Lord did not entrust the faith to books, but to persons. They do well to concern themselves with these things, we do well to diligently help them in their efforts, but there is no need for anxiety about it.

  10. phy1729 says:

    Hash: SHA256

    With current technology it is relatively easy for any number of parties to electronically sign in a secure way a document to endorse it and validate it’s authenticity. explains the concept and GPG is the (free) software many use to implement signature schemes.
    This message is an example signed with my key.
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.10 (Darwin)


  11. Arguing in things out in public with full access to documents, with the people in touch with the Vatican and vice versa, will probably create a lot more heated arguments, yes; but there’s also a lot more light to make corrections by.

  12. Sid says:

    Theophilius and CDNowak are correct. I’m of the pre-digital age. I can remember the day when the State of North Carolina required that wills be written by hand, so concerned were jurists that typed wills might be easily forged. North Carolina has long since abandoned this requirement.

    I prefer to hold a codex in my hand rather than look at a screen. Still, I envy youth, who likely will live to see the day when everything ever put to paper will be out on the Net. Just two days ago I couldn’t find my copy of Cooper’s The American Democrat, then remembering that I foolishly had given it away. I then found the whole thing on the Net, in the original printing.

    BLB Oregon has some wisdom also, about how easy it was in a handwriting culture to change documents. I would add to his remarks: Some communities of faith are very careful about their scriptures, and some are careless. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew text of the Tanakh was the Leningrad Codex, c. a.D. 1000. When the MS of Isaiah was found at Qumran, there was almost no difference in its text and the Leningrad Codex. The text and been preserved correctly for a millennium. The Rabbis even left the text unamended, even when there was clearly a scribal error, or when the text was very ambiguous (e.g. Psalm 110).

    Early Christians, on the other hand, appear to have been careless about their scriptures. Even a glance at the scholarly edition of the Greek NT shows that almost every verse in the NT has variations. Yet I would argue there is a reason for this other than just lack of care. The Early Church (as early Israel) was a community at worship, a cultus, with a priesthood, an altar, a sacrifice, and they meet their god in the cultus. The text — at least the Christian texts — was secondary. Only later did the text assume more importance — an importance I do not deny, for otherwise we’d have a kind of Shinto religion. All the same, I tell my Protestant friends (from whom, by the way, we can learn much) that the Church came first, then the Bible.

  13. Jacob says:

    @ phy1729

    I knew PGP would come into this at some point. Cheers.

  14. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Well, I’d rather have both available, and the “original” is a paper document sealed in some Vatican vault for the big Magisterial Documents, and other good store houses under lock and key for everything else.
    As for “who” should be gatekeepers or authenticate documents, books, etc., like the bishops, Benedict or the current pope should be the one to give the gate keepers their positions and that person’s job is nothing but looking at books and documents etc. all day and doing such. I’d prefer that clergy with at least a B.Sc in theology from a neutral-conservative university, or a highly educated layman or Canon lawyer of the professionalism of Ed Peters be the type of qualified person to fill a post like that. They should also get a pretty good salary for their work too to have it be a full time job.
    Some of you might be thinking “hey you mentioned bishops. what about the Nihil Obstat and imprimatur?” Yes they give a religious work more credence, similar to a novel that gets a Pulitzer Prize or an equivalent/country-specific prize by the highest authority there. However, as we’ve seen on this blog, bishops are a funny bunch that swing liberal or conservative. What one liberal bishop will give the N.Ob. or Imprimatur to, another will not seeing the theological errors within. Also, you have to be highly erroneous to the point of obvious to get the attention of the USCCB to deny your work be published (probably the same in Canada). So we can’t use N.Ob and imprimaturs as criteria can we?
    As for simply concentrating on print to digital, I’d rather not leave everything digital only for two reasons: 1) Think power outages and no electricity say after a huge natural disaster, and what if it was down for weeks and months? There should always be paper documents ready in case of a long-term disaster with no power. 2) As we have seen or heard in countries like China and the Middle East (e.g. Egypt during the peak of the protests against Mubarrak and the government) governments have the power to turn of the internet/electronic communications or restrict the internet at will. What if our North American governments in future yield to secular/public pressure and decide to restrict Catholicism/”non-secular” Christianity by restricting anything that deals with the Christian faith? Some bloggers (e.g. Mark Mallett in Canada and The Catholic Knight) speak of a “chastisement” to happen in the Catholic faith, even in the near future, and Mark Mallett even went further in one blog post as to link to an outline of 5/6 steps as to how a country/society is allowed to persecute to the point of violence a perceived minority (e.g. Holocaust). It is similar to this link: and we Catholics could be at step 3 or 4 already, depending on things. The control of electronic material might be part of this chastisement under step 5 against Catholics. So in case this happens in North America or Canada, I’d rather not have the essential print documents floating around the internet only and have paper copies at the ready in case of the inevitable.

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