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NEW YORK (RNS) Social media can bring out the worst in people, and even Pope Francis’ enormously popular Twitter feed is peppered with nasty comments. But the Vatican’s chief media strategist says the Catholic Church cannot ignore the opportunities for evangelization that the Internet offers.

“In our church we are always fishing inside the aquarium,” Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told a gathering of journalists on Thursday (May 22). “And we forget that most fish are outside the aquarium.”

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli speaks during the World Communications Day Media Conference on Thursday, May 22. Photo courtesy of Diocese of Brooklyn

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli speaks during the World Communications Day Media Conference on Thursday (May 22). Photo courtesy of Diocese of Brooklyn


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Unless the church engages social media, he said, “we will wind up talking to ourselves.”

In his talk at a celebration of the church’s World Communications Day, organized by the Diocese of Brooklyn, and in other comments during a trip to New York, Celli acknowledged that social media platforms can serve as pulpits for personal attacks and can foment divisions rather than fostering community.

Speaking to digital media executives in New York on Wednesday, for example, Celli said that the Vatican has resisted entreaties by Facebook to set up a page for Pope Francis because ugly comments are harder to monitor on Facebook. He said that Vatican officials spend enough time as it is “cleaning up” the Facebook page for the Vatican’s news portal; they delete obscenities but let polite criticism stand.

Celli said that nasty remarks on Twitter are less prominent so it’s less of a concern. The pope has 4 million followers on his @pontifex account and Celli said conservative estimates indicate that through retweets and other forms of sharing some 60 million people see the brief messages — usually sent out once a day in nine languages.

“We are not naive” about the perils of social media, Celli said in an interview. “But when you enter into this arena you have to look mainly at the positive aspects.” He referred to social media as a “digital continent” that the church must treat as mission territory.

Celli, a personable Italian prelate who was named to his current post by retired Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, has pushed the Vatican to embrace new media.

The archbishop said there was something of a “crisis” when the Vatican launched a Twitter account for Benedict in 2012 because of concerns over online criticism. Celli said that in fact the number of negative comments on Twitter did spike during the last year of Benedict’s reign as he faced a barrage of bad headlines about scandals in the Vatican.

But Celli said there has been a notable shift in tone under Francis, which he attributes in part to the new pope’s own eagerness to communicate by any means possible. He said that openness to media is a direct reflection of Francis’ view of the church.

“It is about a Catholic Church that is keeping the doors open to everybody,” Celli said of Francis’ approach. “The open door allows everyone who wants to enter to come in, notwithstanding their state of life.”

The key for Catholics, Celli told his audience on Thursday, is to turn the other cheek when attacked. “Our presence (in digital media) will only be effective if we are authentic witnesses to our faith,” he said.

KRE/MG END GIBSON

12 Comments

  1. It seems that genuine concern for being ought to be centered on what it means to be human in this cosmos. It is wrong to maintain any sense of righteousness or superiority about one’s own ideas and beliefs, especially when it comes to religion.

    It is even more wrong to act on the conviction that those who think or believe differently than you, who do no harm to others, are in need of evangelization and conversion to your way of thinking and believing.

    So much for fishing in the “aquariums” of other thinkers and believers. An exchange of ideas among people is natural and it should always be respectful, but the idea that anyone possesses the only true “gospel” and others should convert is totally insupportable. That attitude has been one of the sins of all churches throughout history. All the councils and reformations of Christianity are proof of that. Jihads, 9/11, and continuing terrorism are proofs for Islam.

    • To clarify,
      The internet has enable people to discover on their own
      That claims of the Bible are nonsense.

      We now know that there Jesus has had a 100% failure rate
      in 2000 years of record keeping regarding the positive outcome of any prayers FOR:

      Reversing the loss of a leg, arm, finger or toe (unless you are a salamander)
      Reversing a single case of Polio
      Reversing Aggressive Child Leukemia
      Reversing a single case of Tay-sach’s Disease
      Reversing a single case of Lupus
      Reversing a case of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease
      Reversing a case of Smallpox
      Reversing a case of the Plague
      Reversing the death of a child
      Reversing the death of a grandparent
      Reversing the death of a pet
      Reversing the death of anyone outside of a bible story
      Reversing blindness outside of a bible story
      Stopping a natural disaster outside of a bible story
      Turning water into something else outside of a bible story
      Reversing skin diseases outside of a bible story
      Ending the Mets losing streaks
      Reversing the spread of Nuclear Weapons
      Reversing a case of Malaria
      Reversing a stroke
      Reversing MRSA Bacterial Evolution
      stopping earthquakes
      halting Tsunamis
      halting mass killings
      stopping car accidents
      ending child rape
      ending hunger
      curing the common cold
      Etc.

      THANKS TO THE INTERNET WE KNOW JESUS IS RIDICULOUS.

  2. The Church will continue to fail.
    Look at these 11 explicit claims by Jesus
    about the absolute, incontrovertible power of prayer.

    The internet has PROVEN
    ALL OF THESE CLAIMS ARE COMPLETELY FALSE:

    “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified….” (John 14:13)

    “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:2)

    “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22)

    “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)

    “Therefore I say unto you, what things so ever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:24)

    “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)

    “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” (Mark 11:23)

    “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6)

    “Whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (John 5:14-15)

    “…I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them.” (Matthew 18:19)

    “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17)

    THE CHURCH NEVER HAD AN ENEMY LIKE THE INTERNET.
    TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA WILL HURRY THE DEMISE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

    THANK ‘GOD’ !!!

    • Greetings, Max.

      It’s a mystery to me why a self-professed atheist would quote the Bible. At the very least, you could get one in modern English. Or even Greek. Or find Jesus’ original words in Aramaic. Then we could have a real conversation.

      I’d be skeptical about worshiping the internet too much. Otherwise, enjoy the day.

      • @Todd,

        I quote the Bible for the same reason I quote the Q’uran.
        People are using the claims within them as excuses to harm other people – and worse.

        In the context of 9/11 one might find meaning in the Q’uran’s injunction:
        “Slay them wherever you find them”

        Or maybe you don’t care about whether these books are true or about whether the texts hurt people?

        • Thanks for the reply, Max.

          There are a lot of people doing things out there I don’t agree with, using objects and other people to hurt others.

          As for holy books, how can we be assured your use of them actually enhances the truth you are attempting to preach? I mean: does a chef have credibility talking nuclear physics, or does a physicist have something to offer on the discussion about making a perfect omelet?

          I notice you post quite a bit on this site. You use an outdated Bible translation. You peel things out of context. I mean: you are perfectly free to keep doing this. I’m not sure you’re being very effective, and therefore, people are being harmed while you engage in what is likely a fruitless endeavor. Or maybe you don’t care your brand of talk-atheism isn’t very fruitful.

          • @Todd Flowerday,

            Jesus made 11 explicit claims:
            “Ask me for anything, I WILL do it.”

            I submit that this is spectacularly immoral.
            It is immoral to believe it. It is immoral to preach it.
            It is immoral to practice it.

            If you have ever been to a children’s hospital
            you would understand the exquisite evil; the immorality at the very foundation of these disgraceful promises.

            The agony and trauma caused by religion is unmatched by any other primitive idea in human history.

            I quote the Bible because that is the root of the evil claim.
            I show it to believers that some might wake up and live.

  3. The Catholic Church needs to wake up or it will gradually disappear. The war that its celibate, male leadership attempts to wage with its claimed weaponry of sacramental power against studying, learning, thinking pew warmers can no longer keep most of those pew warmers hostage to such ancient mythology.

    The church is dwindling. The church is disappearing. Either the leadership wakes up and changes on its own or reformations by the people in the pews and some of the clergy will continue without that leadership and the Vatican will become more than a museum of that ancient mythology than it already is.

    Do not be impressed by the mobs that gather in St. Peter’s Square for appearances of popes, not even Francis. It is the way huge portions of populations have always gathered for spectacle. It was even done for kings and queens and nazi and fascist and communist leaders who spent their ill-gotten gains to impress the ignorant masses with pageantry while they worked nonstop against the welfare of those very mobs of ordinary people. It’s done for our presidents at their inaugurations and other public appearances. It’s even done by diocesan bishops and candidates for public office.

    Guess why the present archbishops of Newark, NJ, and Atlanta, GA, and Archbishop “Bling” of Germany dare to spend many millions of the dollars of the people in the pews for royal mansions as their homes. And why does Francis do nothing about those bold and outrageous sins of materialism committed in the name of the Man of Galilee?

    The mindset of “fishing inside the aquarium” or in other people’s “aquariums” should be ended. “Fishing” should be ended. The attitude of “fishing” or catching or trapping is contrary to respect for the nature of independent thought and belief. The very nature of religious convictions must be respected as much as any others–as long as they do no harm to others.

    There is dialogue. There is conversation. There is even argument. But there must always be respect. Respect excludes all sense of coercion, all sense of dogma, all sense of “my way or the highway” belief. Cardinals Levada and Mueller have violated that concept outrageously in their dealings with the majority of Catholic nuns in the United States. Obviously Benedict and now Francis approve their gestapo tactics.

    As long as a belief in clerical sacramental power exists and is used as a means to force the submission of others to belief, it is false. As long as the clergy and its leadership claim to hold that sacramental power in itself only, that belief is false, the sacramental power is false, and its use as force is immoral and unethical.

    Martin Luther studied early church history and theology very thoroughly before he nailed his theses of reform to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517. In those theses, among other things, he outlined the concept of “the priesthood of the people.” It relates perfectly to the Vatican II declaration regarding the “People of God.”

    The Catholic Church must eliminate most of the Vatican Curia, especially the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with its recent line of grand inquisitors, Cardinals Ottaviani, Ratzinger (Benedict), Levada, and now Mueller.

    Catechisms like the old Baltimore versions and John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church are just as meaningless as dictates from the old Holy Office of the Inquisition or its replacement, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. No two believers, Catholic or otherwise, believe the same thing in the same way. And the very idea of dictating belief is a total contradiction of belief itself. It makes a false fantasy of belief.

  1. […] Vatican media chief says the church can't ignore social media NEW YORK (RNS) Social media can bring out the worst in people, and even Pope Francis' enormously popular Twitter feed is peppered with nasty comments. But the Vatican's chief media strategist says the Catholic Church cannot ignore the opportunities for … Read more on Religion News Service […]

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