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Thursday, 26 March, 1998, 06:44 GMT
Internet for the Masses
Altar PC: Computers are becoming central to the Catholic Church's attempts to spread the Word
Altar PC: computers are becoming central to the Catholic Church's attempts to spread the word
"And thou shalt put it under the compass of the altar beneath, that the net may be even to the midst of the altar. " Exodus.27.5

The Very Wired Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, is hosting what he describes as a "wonderful beginning" for the Catholic Church on the Internet. Major players in the industry are mixing with robed cardinals and archbishops from all over the world at the Church's International Conference on New Technologies, taking place in Colorado till Saturday.

The "Solemnity of the Annunciation" on Wednesday evening was followed by Sister Judith Zoebelein, Technical Director of the Internet Office of the Holy See, holding a workgroup on website development and navigation structure. After Holy Mass on Thursday morning, Internet guru Esther Dyson was due to give a sermon to the befrocked on how the Internet will change life as we know it.

Archbishop Chaput delivers his own homilies over the Net with Web-savvy titles such as "Fools with tools are still fools".

"In church I can preach to perhaps 800 people," he told BBC News online, "If I put my presentation on our web page, I might have people from different parts of the world look at it and a broader audience than at church on Sunday."

"Know now that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with his net." Job.19.6

The Church sees the Net as a medium for winning new converts. "Adapting the new technologies for evangelization, catechesis and communications" is the title of one session. Help is at hand from industry giants with IBM talking about its project to digitise the Vatican library and Microsoft seeing a business opportunity in its presentation: "Using Microsoft products to design, organize and communicate the message".

Other key participants include the Archbishop of Paris, the president of the TCI cable company, the head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the president of Adobe Systems.

"The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit." Proverbs 12.12

Archbishop Chaput sees both good and bad in the Net. He is appalled by porn, concerned at the manipulation of reality and over whether the poor can be empowered by the information revolution. But he cites distance learning and the easy dissemination of religious education over the Web as making it a force for good.

Many churches now have their own web sites and the Vatican's was given a major facelift last year. But the archbishop says there is no chance of any virtual Communion:

"Someone asked me if we can have the sacraments on the web, and the answer is no" he said. "It's a new medium for the Church but it's certainly not the best kind of medium, because I think the Christian gospel is about human beings relating to God and also becoming sisters and brothers to one another. That takes place best in reality and in real communities."

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