FLASH! Fr. Z agrees with the Huffington Post. Imminent fall of sky to follow.

Here’s a statement: Fr. Z agrees with the Huffington Post.

One Thomas A Shakely, blogging at HuffPo has a piece about the Catholic Church and the Church’s use of and strategy on the tools of social communication.  But… wait, there’s more.  Coherent strategy about social communications.

I agree with many Shakely’s ideas.  Keep in mind that Shakely has also written for National Review Online. I’m just sayin’…

Here are some snips.  Read the rest, if you care to, over there.  We enter the scene in media res


But for a variety of reasons, such coherent approaches to life in the digital age remain elusive, especially for major, culturally significant institutions. And among America’s great institutions, the Catholic Church looms large as another arena for the reconciling of our physical and digital experiences. The American Catholic Church represents nearly a quarter of the population; some 68 million people across 18,000 parish churches within 195 dioceses in 50 states.

Catholics under 30, who embody the future of the Church, are true digital natives. They experience life in both the physical and digital space, with real world experiences like the Mass amplified across online profiles and communities, sparking curiosity and conversation among people who expect to be able to find answers (at least, orthodox clarity of information) as simply as they search for an address or pay a bill.

The digital life, in other words, impacts lines of thinking and personal formation. This leads to an inescapable conclusion: the Catholic Church is missing a tremendous opportunity[I have written before in these electronic pages that every bishop in the US should appoint a priest to be Episcopal Vicar for Online Ministry.]


Pope Benedict XVI has made the new evangelization a cornerstone of his papacy. […]

Directors of Digital Strategy could develop coherent, custom plans of action, with clear lines of responsibility, and answer directly to the bishop, serving as a digital adviser. [That might work.  The only problem is that getting everyone to work together would be rather like trying to organize a goat rodeo.] Parish churches, too, could recruit their own digital liaisons to take charge of online media, branding, access, and communication on a local level, working in tandem with the diocese strategist. [If it can be impressed at the parish level that there is something called the internet, the web, Twitter… etc.]


The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in particular, represents an ideal proving ground for this concept. Charles Chaput, longtime Archbishop in Denver and author, will be taking over in Philadelphia in September. The city has been rocked in recent months by the simmering scandal of the sexual abuse crisis and its handling of accused priests, and the faithful are truly in need of leadership, not only about the state of their churches and their priests, but also on how to communicate their faith in dark times.


The challenge has at least two parts. First, to engage Catholics beyond the Mass across relevant platforms, communicating the eternal message of the Church.  [We used to do that pretty well, even with liturgical moments that weren’t Mass, devotions and the like, which could have a social dimension afterward.  However, in the aftermath of the Council, devotions were all but swept away.  In most places.  And as neighborhoods changes and people all acquired cars, parishes weren’t neighborhood centers of activity anymore.] Secondly, and critically with near-perilous internal and national economies, to do so at low cost while reaching more souls across diverse physical and digital communities.  [QUAERITUR: Will the perils of our economy bring down the internet?  Then what?  Back to devotions!  Pot luck at the parish!  Sharing ration books to make the cake for the collective birthdays of a dozen kids at a time!]

Imagine: an Archbishop whose voice was a part of your Facebook feed. Who spoke through short behind-the-scenes videos and personal updates via Twitter. Who checked-in on Foursquare. Who live streamed and archived his Masses and homilies. Who had a public email address.  [Well and good.  But the medium is not the only message.  The bishops and priests who do this have to give something worth saying or hearing, with something to tussle with.  If you are going the shout from the housetops, you had better have more to say than just a shout at the moon or “You’re all okay just the way you are!”]


Catholics want the faith of their communities to shine, and their bishops and priests and schools to be meaningful parts of their lives and positive examples for others. The Catholic choir of community still sings. Like all choirs, it helps to have a director.

A digital strategist, and a roadmap strategy, are a smart way to seize a critical opportunity.

The Church always used to use well the most modern tools of social communication.  Until recently.

I have used this example for years now:

Our Lord asked to be let out on the water in a little boat at the end of a line so that He could address a much larger crowd on the shore.

He thereby gave us the first example of “on-line ministry” (cf Mark 4).

He used technology to address a wider audience.

Another biblical example is that of shouting from the rooftops: more people can hear. (cf. Matthew 10:27: Quod dico vobis in tenebris dicite in lumine et quod in aure auditis praedicate super tecta.)  The roof is a tool of communication.

Paul wrote letters which were read aloud to crowds and then copied and sent to other communities.

When Christianity became the religion of the Empire Constantine allowed bishops to use the Imperial post system. They so overtaxed it that it struggled to function well.

When we learned to make thin walls that were tall, we filled them with glass so that light could in a new way teach even the unlettered about the mysteries of the faith and the story of saints and of salvation.

We used the printing press, radio and the infant television.

We haven’t done too well with the internet … yet.

But we are getting there.

Byte by byte.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, New Evangelization, The future and our choices and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. sacerdosinaeternum says:

    This is why I’m looking forward to Catholicon!

  2. Young Canadian RC Male says:
  3. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Sorry for the empty quote, but I don’t have this HTML thing down yet. Yes finally got the blockquote citing! Fr Z says this:

    [That might work. The only problem is that getting everyone to work together would be rather like trying to organize a goat rodeo.] “

    Unfortunately, Fr Z brings up a good point that I see can be problematic. As has been indicated here on the Catholic blogosphere, not all bishops are true to their Magisterium when they teach and can be contradictory, and this also includes priests and lay catholics as well. This online ministry could be just as bad as what we have now if, say, Bishop Liberale becomes the head of the online ministry, and assigns Mr. “Lay-person-with-3 post secondary degrees in theology from a liberal univeristy-and-practices-and-believes-in-liberal-theologies” to be the head blogger/commentor, this could further ruin people’s faith and only add fuel to the fire that is the watered down catechesis that was served to adults and they continue to serve up for today’s youth. I say the situation stays where it is, because right now the Conservatives like Fr. Z, Michael, Voris, etc. have the upper hand right now in the Catholic blogosphere and conservatives dominate it. Don’t let the lion get a new playpen and soil his beard with more blood!!!

  4. Director of Digital Strategy, ugh. Hmm … Can we just say cZar?

  5. RickMK says:

    Who was the head telephone strategist a century ago, whose job was to seize the opportunity of using that new telephone technology to spread the Church’s teachings?

    I think it’s better for the hierarchy to stay away from the internet, than to try to pretend they know how to use it and look dumb. The internet is a much more appropriate tool for lay people and priests who really understand it.

    There is no more need of a digital strategist than there was to have a telephone strategist when that was the latest new communication technology.

  6. The Cobbler says:

    I’m with RichMK.

    Church-related initiatives on the ‘net in order from least appealing and savvy to most appealing and savvy:

    Anything put out by a diocese.

    Things put out by young new vocations recruiters working for the diocese.

    Things put out by ordinary priests and laymen-and-women, or even (as in the case of the Rev. Know-It-All) by priests writing the material and laymen maintaining the site.

    The difference between the second and third cases is an absence of unnecessary flash. There are three types of people: those who couldn’t design a website if they tried, those who can but make it look whiney and attention-grabbing, and those who can design websites that are tasteful. (There are further degrees of mastery and perhaps even overlap, admittedly; some can be tasteful and creative, some can be tasteful and ordinary, some people design websites poorly without even getting to the phase where they work fine but are too flashy or go chasing trendiness, etc. The art is incredibly subtle at its highest point; much of the difference between Windows operating systems or between Firefox and Internet Explorer, a difference analogous to that between some websites, is on some level merely subtleties of aesthetics!) We need the third; and the third usually are recognisable because they do what they do, not because they pass any particular entrance exam to serve the diocese in any way, even this particular way.

    That said, let the Vatican keep translating its documents and putting them online for the savvier sites to reference! Fr. Z is absolutely right that the bishops, to be most effective in _any_ medium, have to have _something worth saying_. And they do if they keep in mind what the Church they serve IS.

  7. So why hasn’t the Church taken advantage of the internet? I have not found one diocese or archdiocese that takes online communication seriously(well, there are a few but they are the exception).

  8. jflare says:

    I’ll admit to being somewhat confounded by this story.
    On one hand, one can make a fair case for better use of Twitter, FaceBook, or other internet resources to communicate the Church’s Gospel message. On the other hand, I think it’d be very difficult to ensure that these resources would provide better results than what happens already.

    Technically, this article doesn’t address me; I’m closer to 40 than 30, so I’m arguably not AS internet-adept as some younger folks. I’ve had VERY LITTLE genuine use for Twitter or Facebook, though I technically have accounts with both.

    Even so, I find it astounding to suggest that Catholics make poor use of the internet!

    I didn’t know much at all about the “culture wars” within the Church prior to discovering a traditional (schismatic) parish about 10 years ago. Once I did, how did I learn more?

    Even then, ten years ago, I found numerous sites that dealt with traditional teachings, traditional practices, and critique of the Second Vatican Council. Then, having developed an interest in what Vatican II actually said, I found the actual (translated to English) documents of the Council..on the internet!

    Then too, I found Catholic Answers, PewSitter, this site, and a whole plethora of resources aimed at living my faith more fully. Honestly, I find I must limit the number of places to which I refer, if only to keep my internet surfing to a reasonable roar. Even so, I STILL probably spend too much time on the internet.

    I guess I’m forced to agree with others. Would I or others truly benefit from being able to read my bishop’s latest Facebook comment? Not necessarily. He may or may not have anything to say that I’d find terribly helpful. For that matter, I’ve rarely heard of bishops who made public statements without those statements being vetted by a PR person. Given the uproar we saw related to “Light of the World”, perhaps it’s just as well that our bishops DON’T use these particular technologies.

    I think we’d gain much more benefit from seeing our communities work together to sponsor various “real-world” events. Corpus Christi processions, Rosary crusades, praying outside abortion clinics, inducing our parishes to improve opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration, (gulp) offering more frequent Confession, (gulp harder) lay people attending daily Mass and encouraging others in doing so, these sorts of things strike me as being much more efficacious.

    Actually, with apologies for rambling, I think I’m merely repeating what Fr Z and others have already said, but I think it bears repeating.

    Evangelizing people won’t happen unless we LIVE our faith in our real-world lives.

  9. jflare says:

    As a sort of post-script to my last comment:
    I like the idea of using the internet capably.
    Trouble is..if we wish for anyone, especially a diocese or parish, to better use the internet, someone needs to aid in training someone to do it well.
    Where–and how–does someone acquire such training? How much does it cost?

    I couldn’t answer those questions to save my neck. Sad, because I think we CAN use the internet to great advantage.
    Too many of us don’t know how.

  10. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    I agree with those who say that the internet shouldn’t serve as a conduit for evangelization, but I will go a step farther: the internet is ill-suited to such a task. Yes, there are useful resources on the internet, but people have to want to find them. Search engines prioritize according to business models of advertizing — molding the message to suit the profit motive, not the truth.
    Furthermore, a very large number of people get access to the internet in complete isolation from other people. They’re not hermits, but have merely lost the desire for interpersonal contact and , increasingly, the ability to maintain any sort of relationship not based on immediate gratification. Look at the increasing number of channels on television and the veritable plethora of sites on the internet designed to cater not to the truth, but to self aggrandisement and the prurient interest. Since self-aggrandisement and the prurient interest are inimical to the Christian life, and since the ability to understand a relationship with God in part depends on our ability to understand relationships with human persons besides ourselves, the internet is directly us (or, if you prefer, the new evangelization) in the wrong direction.

  11. Felicia says:

    We are so there here in Ottawa!

    I must give a hat tip to my bishop who blogs here:

    My parish’s website (with tons o’resources for self study and audio files of our Rector’s excellent homilies) here:

    And my parish’s Facebook page here:

    And the parish Twitter feed here:

    I have to also mention Msgr. Tom Dowd, a soon-to-be-ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal, was one of the early priest-bloggers in Canada. I’ve met him, and Montreal will be blessed to have him as a bishop. His blog is here:

  12. Maltese says:

    “I have written before in these electronic pages that every bishop in the US should appoint a priest to be Episcopal Vicar for Online Ministry.”

    Very true, Father Z, they also might want to hire a data-mining company to see trends in the Church. Though Truth never changes, the way we present that Truth can. Christ had to dust his sandals after speaking in the town square. The missionaries had to utilize modern sailing ships to bring the Gospel to indigenous people. Radio brought the message of Christ to millions, especially under Fr. Sheen. Now, we have good souls, such as you, Fr. Z, who are proclaiming Christ’s truth in a new medium. Very good! But, you are very right than we need to use these media wisely.

    Just as the sailing ship used to spread the gospel was used wisely, so the pirate could use the same ship to spread evil. So, too, the internet.

    Though, I must say, and this is my personal opinion, evil is spreading faster through the internet than ever before. Why? Because the internet cloaks the user (at least in his mind; but it gives the illusion of anonymity. Law enforcement may be able to see what he is doing, but to the average Joe, he thinks he can do whatever he wants.) So, a man who would be too embarrassed to buy a girly mag in the past, can now hop on-line, and see whatever he wants.

    Most priests don’t agree with me, but I think pornography is a mortal sin. Christ said to look at a woman, and lust after her, you are committing adultery. The majority of men in the Country look at online porn, and are thus setting themselves up for everlasting damnation.

  13. Rich says:

    Many bureaucrats in the Church know that she is missing an opportunity to evangelize by not taking the digital age by the horns, which is exactly why they are doing nothing about it.

  14. The web is like the wild west.

    One can find in this e-frontier all kinds of Catholics out here: Ordinary folk who keep their heads down and get their work done; professionals who each fill a particular nitch, complementary to others; those who exhibit exemplary citizenship working to build up an emerging community and pressing for the common good; some who are unruly and uncivilized, shooting at anything that moves; others who try to keep the unruly in check; faith communities that build; sects that tear apart. This list could go on.

    The wild west is exciting, while at the same time, a place of caution. It’s a place where Catholics learn about the faith, and teach others about it. It’s a place where Catholics can learn good things, and bad things by other Catholics. It’s a place where zeal and knowledge of truth must be tempered and taught with the virtues.

    In the wild west, the greatest sins may have been committed against the 5th, 6th and 9th commandments. In this new frontier, Catholics must work hard to avoid all of these, but the risk of sinning against the 8th commandment is also quite high, as it is not understood very well.

    These things should have the inhabitants of this new frontier learning how to live with joy and excitement, but with caution lest they find themselves unprepared, out in the elements.

  15. Jeremiah says:

    With spect to those of dissenting opinion, the Internet is absolutely a conduit for evangelization, just more a la St. Francis.

    What’s so great about Fr. Z’s blog? It’s not just the translative work, or the encouragement for those like myself who have these vague desire for Latin they can’t really explain. It’s not just the encouragements to get out butts into the confessional.

    He cooks. He watches birds. Fr. Z is a human. A real flesh and blood man with HOBBIES!

    The most successful web ministers practice an online form of evangelization which isn’t so different from missionary work. Humanize first, evangelize later. Or rather, evangelize with words later.

    The things is, we cannot afford to not be on the Internet. There is so much out there that damages the soul, that there must be men and women, and yes, bishops, priests, deacons, even a pope, being virtually present to people. To let Catholics know that it is alright to be Catholic on the Internet. To let the world know that these are real, approachable people.

    While I’m not suggesting we start catholicchat.org (that has not, historically, gone well), some training would not be amiss at all levels on what is and is not appropriate, and what will and will not contribute to the salvation of souls. Whether it needs to be at the level of strategy, I do think that Seminarians should be familiar with blogging and “internet homiletics.”

    Not as important as formation, not as important as our Seminarians being drowned unorthodox theology, but all the knowledge in the world is squandered if it can’t be expressed.

    As several people have mentioned, there is much evil on the web, and we risk a virtual Christianity if it only ever exists on the web. However, in this day, to this western culture, sometimes the path to true human contact starts on the web.

    St. Francis said to evangelize always, and when necessary use words. In this digital age, I truly believe this means things like a Pope with an iPad.

  16. Jeremiah says:

    That should have been respect, not spect.

    Also, as a side note to those concerned about un-vetted output, as I understand it, many high profile twitterers actually have PR people who do the actual crafting and posting of the tweets and fb status updates. Like having a translator.

  17. Patti Day says:

    Quite right. Nearly everyone in the western world at least, has a television and/or radio in the home, and we all know what tripe is flying around the airwaves. Still most people tune in some time during the day, if only to see or hear the news. To ignore such a powerful source for communication as the internet because it has demonstrated a capacity for evil, would be a wasted opportunity.

  18. AnAmericanMother says:

    The Wild West was not nearly as wild as folks think.
    All that freedom . . . and very little crime or violence. Despite the hyperventilation of the dudes back east and the penny-dreadful press, the likes of Earp, Hickok, et al. and the Johnson County Range War were the exception rather than the rule. The death toll, even per capita, in your average urban center today is much higher. Not to mention the property and personal crime short of homicide.
    The Internet is like the Wild West in the sense that the modern equivalent of the effete Easterners are scared to death of what they might find, while people who are willing to exercise self-control and a little initiative find it very congenial.
    And yes, there is just as much opportunity for evangelisation as there was in remote frontier communities. And the Catholics were out there, too.

  19. teevor says:

    At a bare minimum, I wish we could just see some coherency and consistency in the way our parishes present themselves on the internet.
    Here in Toronto, the Archdiocesan website is reasonably OK for finding information and delivering content, but the websites of individual parishes, if they exist at all, are nearly all stuck in 1998, both in terms of their currency and presentation. Considering how important the internet is as a tool for people who are unrooted and say, exploring their communities, or curious about religion, it is disgraceful that these large urban parishes and their pastors have ignored the internet as a field of evangelisation…
    The protestants have done much better in this regard.
    There are protestant churches which have ten people in the pews on Sunday which have a web presence ten times better than any catholic parish I’ve seen. Of course, these outreach efforts have been stimulated by the dire state of attendance at these communities, but this is a reality that Catholic parishes will begin to face sooner than many people realize.

  20. Tom Shakely says:

    I’m gratified to see such a lively conversation on the merits of this idea. One thing I’d like to emphasize, which I failed to do adequately in the piece itself, is that the real purpose of a “Chief Digital Officer” for a diocese would be to create infrastructure across the diocese.

    One small example: many churches seem to be open to live streaming their Masses (or at least their Homilies) over the web through free services like ustream.tv. But few churches have the wireless networks in place to make live streaming straightforward. Aiding churches diocese-wide with wifi installation could be part of a roadmap plan, wherein all that’s required after that is an iPad or iPod touch to put the event live online.

    Again, this is a small example, and certainly not one as central to faith life as, say, Devotions, but for the family with distant relatives or homebound elderly who could watch their grandchildren’s Christmas choir or Confirmation online as it happens, it would be something of a miracle.

    All this is simply to say: a digital strategy should not be overly focused on social media, but on building wide-ranging digital infrastructure.

  21. AnAmericanMother says:

    Our parish website is phenomenal. There are weekly Emails linking to sermons and articles by the clergy, webcams, a passworded parishioner area, a calendar with RSVP function, different pages for just about every parish activity or program, clergy and staff biographies and contact information, back issues of the bulletins, and links to all sorts of useful materials such as Vatican documents, the catechism, iPhone apps, and blogs (including I hope soon one to WDTPRS!) I would put it up against anybody’s, even the local megachurches that seem to spend all their time with websites, PowerPoint and big screens in the ‘auditorium’.
    Of course, we have a full time web manager.

  22. eiggam says:

    Last summer our parish had a meeting about electronic communication as someone was looking to start a parish blog. It was decided that without someone to take the care of vetting comments (I don’t even want to think about how much time Fr. Z spends on this blog), there could be major problems. The website of the parish shows steady improvement but the bottom line is that someONE needs to have responsibility for it, so I’m all for a that strategic person whatever the title is. Worker bees could do work under direction of someone, but ideas need to be held in check.

    Again, thank you Fr. Z for this blog and all your time, effort and prayers to keep it going.

  23. jflare says:

    Good Evening, Mr. Shakely,
    Glad to see you’re watching this a little. Not too many months ago, Steve Wood commented on his radio show that if someone wanted to improve their salability and usefulness to the general market, taking a course in setting up and administering web pages would be helpful.

    While I’m not currently in a position to start a web site, a blog , or anything else, I would LOVE to learn. ..But I haven’t the slightest idea where to begin. Do I look for some kind of course at a community college? Do I look for something online?
    What sort of course titles do I look for?

  24. LisaP. says:

    At a Bible church I attended with a friend the pastor would give out cassette tapes of his preaching for the day. Now I find my Catholic pastor has put his homilies on the parish Web site. I enjoyed listening to the preacher preach, even sometimes on tape. But I find it disturbing to see the homily on the internet. Why? Because the point of Mass is not to listen to the priest, the point is the sacrifice. Which cannot be digitized.

    I think there is a place for the Web, but it always has to be a tangential one. The Catholic Church is a visceral one. It gets its hands dirty. It cannot be done from a distance, and certainly can’t be done virtually. Think about the word “virtually” as meaning what it used to, before we were all so internet-toned, and you’ll see what I mean.

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