Internet Ethics

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

The two 27-page documents, “Ethics in Internet” — a reflection on ethical issues — and “The Church and Internet” — an assessment of online pastoral opportunities — were prepared by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Russell Shaw, a regular columnist on these pages and one of the world's most respected Catholic journalists, served on the council and headed the drafting process.

At the end of the “Ethics in Internet” document, the council makes a series of recommendations aimed at every level of the Church — religious leaders, educators, pastoral personnel, parents and young people.

The council said it is important that people at all levels of the Church use the Internet creatively to meet their responsibilities and help fulfill the Church's mission. “Hanging back timidly from fear of technology or for some other reason is not acceptable, in view of the very many positive possibilities of the Internet,” the document said.

“People in leadership positions in all sectors of the Church need to understand the media, apply this understanding in formulating pastoral plans for social communications together with concrete policies and programs in this area, and make appropriate use of media,” the document said.

One of the stronger recommendations is a system of voluntary certification of “Catholic” Internet sites at the local and national levels by Church officials. This will help authenticate material of a doctrinal or catechetical nature. “The idea is not to impose censorship,” the document said, “but to offer Internet users a reliable guide to what expresses the authentic position of the Church.

“Priests, deacons, religious, and lay pastoral workers should have media education to increase their understanding of the impact of social communications on individuals and society and help them acquire a manner of communicating that speaks to the sensibilities and interests of people in a media culture,” the document said.

Church personnel directly involved in media must have professional training, as well as doctrinal and spiritual formation. “In order to witness to Christ it is necessary to encounter him oneself and foster a personal relationship with him through prayer, the Eucharist and sacramental reconciliation, reading and reflection on God's word, the study of Christian doctrine, and service to others,” the document said.

Parents are encouraged to “learn and practice the skills of discerning viewers and listeners and readers, acting as models of prudent use of media in the home.” Above all, they need to guide and supervise their children in its use.

“The fundamental parental duty here is to help children become discriminating, responsible Internet users and not addicts of the Internet, neglecting contact with their peers and with nature itself,” the document said.

Young people are warned that the Internet is “a door opening on a glamorous and exciting world with a powerful formative influence; but not everything on the other side of the door is safe and wholesome and true.”

The final recommendation involves the virtues that Internet users will need to make better use of the technology. Prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance and courage are necessary to see the potential for good and evil in this new medium and to respond creatively to its challenges and opportunities.

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