There is probably no doubt that the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has his heart in the right place but his comments in a published interview over the weekend may not exactly pull in the youth crowd at next Sunday’s mass.
Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, is concerned that excessive use of emails and mobile phone text messaging is creating shallow friendships and undermining community life. He did not go as far as saying it was contributing to lower church attendances but it was implied. He commented on social networking sites that he felt encouraged children to place an excessive importance on the number of friends they had instead of the quality of their relationships.
Perhaps his most shocking revelation was that popular social networking sites led young people to form “transient relationships” which put them at risk of suicide when these friendships collapsed. “Among young people often a key factor in their committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships. They throw themselves into a friendship or network of friendships, then it collapses and they’re desolate,” Nichols said.
“I think there’s a worry that an excessive use, or an almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we’re losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that’s necessary for living together and building a community.”
The Archbishop said too much use of electronic information was “dehumanizing,” leading to a loss in social skills and the ability to read a person’s mood through their body language. At 63, one can only assume that he doesn’t have much to do with today’s technology. Is it possible that the Catholic Church itself doesn’t use any of the new fandangled technology like mobile phones and emails?
Nichols comments are, however in line with the Official Vatican stance relayed late last year by spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi. He also stated that the modern obsession with technology is leaving no time for spiritual nourishment, and subsequently, damaging the soul.
“In the age of the cell phone and the internet, it is probably more difficult than before to protect silence and to nourish the interior dimension of life.” said Fr. Lombardi.
Pope Benedict has stated that the current economic crisis goes to show how worthless pursuit of money and success has proven to be and Lombardi adds technology to this list as an ‘excess of modern life’.
Interestingly enough at the most recent World Youth Day, digital Prayer Walls were set up and the Vatican sent out text messages with inspirational bible quotes. The Vatican has also begun to modernize some of the contents of their library into an accessible online format.
It seems quite ironic that Fr. Lombardi’s message was be spread through the very medium which he has detested, the internet, and that Nichols comments would have reached many millions worldwide because of online publishing by Reuters electronic news service.
It was only last year the the Vatican’s Ministry of Information and Communications, always looking for better ways to communicate and preach to its followers, announced that it would trial terrestrial digital multimedia broadcasting (T-DMB) as a way to reach potential listeners/viewers through their mobile phones.
Perhaps the church leaders of today should read an Apostolic Letter from Pope John Paul II dated 24 January 2005, where he wrote, “The Church is not only called upon to use the mass media to spread the Gospel but, today more than ever, to integrate the message of salvation into the ‘new culture’ that these powerful means of communication create and amplify. It tells us that the use of the techniques and the technologies of contemporary communications is an integral part of its mission in the third millennium”.