Spreading Christ's Love Through Facebook


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SYDNEY, Australia, DEC. 4, 2009 ( The Church in Australia is affirming its desire to take advantage of social networking sites as a way to communicate the love of Jesus Christ, though it is recommending caution in certain respects.

A social networking protocol was approved by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) during its Nov. 23-27 plenary meeting in Sydney.

The bishops cite Benedict XVI in observing that communication technologies have "extraordinary potential" and can be considered "truly a gift to humanity."

But in taking advantage of social networking opportunities, the bishops affirmed that representatives of the Church "need to be aware of appropriate boundaries and activities when communicating in the name of the Church in an online environment."

Being friends

The ACBC protocol makes the clear affirmation that on or offline, respect for human dignity must be priority.

The prelates then list a series of observations to help everyone from bishops to youth ministers to exercise proper caution.

For example, the protocol notes the dilemma of having a public or personal profile on MySpace or Facebook. It observes that with a personal profile, there can be "a way of controlling who appears on the person's page as a 'friend'"; whereas with a public profile, there is no control over "who appears as a 'fan' on your page, but it has the advantage of people understanding that 'fans' are different to 'friends' and that no acceptance or rejection of 'fans' is implied."

The episcopal conference stipulated that there should be permission from the bishop for a Church worker to set up a personal profile where those to whom he is ministering are his "friends."

"It is advisable that people exercise great care and judgment in accepting 'friend' requests from people to whom they minister, especially young people," the protocol recommends. "In this way, appropriate boundaries can be maintained."

"Moderation of official Church social networking activities is crucial," the bishops further affirm. "Comments which are rude, disrespectful or even bullying in nature should be immediately removed."

Left out

Finally, the ACBC points out an issue that can sometimes be lost in the discussion, which they titled "the digital divide."

The prelates said it is important for all Church entities, and particularly those involved in youth ministry, "not to rely exclusively on social networking as a means of communication."

The protocol explained: "To do this could be to exclude the poor -- those who cannot afford a computer, who live in remote localities with poor Internet connectivity, who struggle with illiteracy or who face other challenges which place them outside of the online world.

"Going to Church and hearing others talk about their social networking experiences can be profoundly isolating for those unable to take part. Social networking should only ever be one of a range of communication methods that we use to invite people into closer relationship with Jesus Christ."