best definition of cyberspace I’ve seen got killed last summer while
the U.S. bishops drafted a fine, new pastoral document, Your
Family and Cyberspace. Cyberspace, an early draft said, is
where you are when you talk on the phone. A more precise, less poetic
definition won the day.
Yet the connection of
cyberspace and our familiar telephone experience hit a nail on the
head. The Internet is becoming everyday. For our younger Catholics,
it’s always been here, like the phone and TV. The Web comes
with the promise and pitfalls of both, and some of its own.
What's Catholic Out There?
Your Family and Cyberspace
has helpful guidance for Catholics using the Internet. We are warned
against pornography and violence, of course. “The world of cyberspace
puts children and adults, often in the privacy of their own homes,
in contact with violent, hate-filled, or graphically sexual material...,”
the bishops observe. The document is loaded with practical tips covering
many aspects of Internet use.
Religion can greatly
benefit from the Internet, the bishops continue, but a special problem
arises: “Cyberspace has become filled with a great deal of misleading
or simply inaccurate information on the Church....Just because you
can find it on the Web doesn’t mean it’s true; and just because a
site uses Catholic in its name doesn’t mean it reflects the
teaching and practice of the Catholic faith. ‘Let the buyer beware’
applies very much in this case.”
How To Pick
Our bishops recommend you lend a critical eye to sites calling themselves
Catholic. If they are sponsored by a parish, diocese or bona fide
Catholic organization (check with your parish staff if you’re not
sure), you’re probably O.K. Look in their self-description and see
if they are accountable to any official Church authority.
Lay-run Catholic sites would be wise to seek some sort of official
endorsement, or membership in a recognized professional Catholic association
such as the Catholic Press
Association, Unda or others.
Web-surfing Catholics should watch for these signs of reliability.