This is the first of an ongoing series of journal-style peer-reviewed articles that will begin appearing at www.MountainRunner.us (and soon at www.MountainRunnerInstitute.org) on subjects and issues related to public diplomacy and strategic communication, U.S. or otherwise.
The Catholic Church and Online Media
by Mariana González Insua
The recent explosion of Catholic sex abuse scandals around the world was the motor that propelled the Vatican to get a foothold on the last social media space that had, until a few weeks ago, remained unconquered by the Catholic Church: Twitter. Given the growing online competition for soul-share, the Church's negative image in relation to the ongoing scandals and the loss of adherents to Catholicism in the US, the Holy See's online platforms are valuable tools for broadcasting its message worldwide and, in particular, in the US.
The Vatican's online presence is certainly not new. The Holy See has had its own website in place for fourteen years and a year ago it created Pope2You, a new site with interactive features such as a Facebook application that allows users to send e-postcards with the Pope's picture and message to their friends, and the possibility of downloading the Pope's speeches and messages to iPhones or iPods. The Vatican also has its own YouTube channel, available in a number of languages, which is updated daily with "holy" news.
Earlier this year, the Pope surprised the world when he decided to take a further step into the virtual realm by telling priests to blog. In his message for the Roman Catholic Church's 44th World Communication Day, Pope Benedict XVI urged priests to make use of all digital tools at their disposal to spread the word: "Priests are [...] challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources-images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites- which, alongside traditional means, can open up brand new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis." The Papal message further encouraged priests to engage with peoples from other religions and cultures: "A pastoral presence in the world of digital communications, precisely because it brings us into contact with the followers of other religions, non-believers and people of every culture, requires sensitivity to those who do not believe, the disheartened and those who have a deep, unarticulated desire for enduring truth and the absolute [...] Can we not see the web as also offering a space for those who have not yet come to know God?"
Mariana González Insua just finished her first year as a student in USC's Masters of Public Diplomacy program. She is originally from Argentina and recently completed a Masters in Latin American Studies at Stanford University.