John Lilburne's journal about "The Church and Internet" and censorship.



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1016 L Sat 2 Mar 2002

Yesterday I read the two documents about the internet from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Of particular interest to me was "The Church and Internet". Generally I find it an encouraging document:

... It is important, too, 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. ... (n. 11)

The approach to the issue of censorship is interesting:

1. ... Even when condemning serious abuses, documents of this Pontifical Council for Social Communications have been at pains to make it clear that "a merely censorious attitude on the part of the Church ... is neither sufficient nor appropriate". {Footnote: Pornography and Violence in the Communications Medid, n. 30}...

11. ... A special aspect of the Internet, as we have seen, concerns the sometimes confusing proliferation of unofficial web sites labeled 'Catholic'. A system of voluntary certification at the local and national levels under the supervision of representatives of the Magisterium might be helpful in regard to material of a specifically doctrinal or catechetical nature. The idea is not to impose censorship but to offer Internet users a reliable guide to what expresses the authentic position of the Church. ...

Contrast this with the tone of parts of the1983 Code of Canon Law:

Canon 823.1 In order to safeguard the integrity of faith and morals, pastors of the Church have the duty and right to ensure than in writings or in the use of means of social communications there shall be no ill effect on the faith and morals of Christ's faithful. They also have the duty and right to demand that where writings of Christ's faithful touch upon matters of faith and morals, these be submitted to their judgement. Moreover, they have the duty and right to condemn writings which harm true faith or good morals. ...

Canon 824.2 Unless it is established otherwise, what is said in the canons of this title about books, applies to any writings intended for publication. ...

Canon 832 To publish writings on matters of religion or morals, members of religious institutes require also the permission of their major Superior, in accordance with the constitutions.

The "Church and the Internet" does not refer to these Canons, but only to:

Canon 212.2 Christ's faithful are at liberty to make know their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.

Canon 212.3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and dignity of individuals.

Since 1983 there has been the widespread availability of the technology for "desk top publishing" and the Internet. This sort of writing has become more like dialogue than the publication of books.

Where does this leave censorship? From the1995 HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism:

censorship, the prohibition of publications, speeches, or activities thought to be offensive to, or violative of, morality. It is the nature of human law to ensure stability and to promote the common good. Where the public expression of certain ideas was thought to threaten public order, legitimate authority has acted to suppress such expression. The Catholic Church has sometimes exercised its teaching authority in matters of faith and morals by an effort to suppress objectionable materials or at least to warn Catholics of the immoral or disruptive content of these materials. ...

The 1972 World Book entry includes:

... Whenever a government or a private group feels endangered by free expression, it may turn to censorship to protect its basic beliefs. Every society, including democratic ones, has had some kind of censorship when its rulers have felt it would benefit the nation -- or themselves. ...

I think "The Church and Internet" provides some wise guidance on how censorship in the Church should be applied with regard to the internet today.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 2 March 2002. Canon Law extracts from the 1997 HarperCollins translation.


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The Church and the Internet