In his message for the 44th World Day of Communications yesterday, Pope Benedict urges Catholic priests to join the digital world and start spreading the Word by blog, tweet, and video. To be sure, the message suggests that the pontiff is himself a bit of a stranger to this world, referring as he does to “the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different ‘highways’ that form ‘cyberspace.'” Perhaps he should give some thought to teaching by example as well as by word, and fire up a blog of his own–say, “See of Peter.”
Be that as it may, James Martin, S.J., the learned and culture-savvy
managing culture editor of America, extends a warm blogger’s welcome to the message over at In All Things. Picking up where the pope leaves off, he runs though a bunch of examples from Jesus to Fulton Sheen to demonstrate that the “history of Christianity is in large part the history of the
church using to great effect the latest media, sometimes even inventing
media, to evangelize.” Of course, there’s also the history of the church doing what it can to control the latest media though the burning of books (see Abelard, Peter, et al.); the Index librorum prohibitorum and the Sacred Congregation of the Index (1571-1917); the episcopal use of the nihil obstat and the imprimatur; the censorship of movies via the various diocesan Legions of Decency, etc. Plus the fact that the real media innovators in the Christian world since the invention of printing have been the Protestants.
Of course, Martin knows all this. His purpose is to get his fellow Catholic clergy off their digital duffs. The problem is that the blogosphere is a scary place for any institution that seeks to maintain message discipline. The pope urges priests who venture into it to be sensitive to the “followers of other religions, non-believers and people of every culture” with whom it will bring them into contact. The tougher job will be to negotiate the “on and off ramps” and “wrong-way signs” and “bad drivers” and “traffic cops” and “road rage” that they’ll encounter from fellow Catholics–not least, the ones they work for.