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January 24, 2014

Pope sees Internet as 'gift from God'

(Continued)

Pope Francis' comments don't go as far as those of Pope Benedict in 2009.

That's when he came under fire for lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, claimed ignorance of the man's past and then wrote this whopper:

"I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news."

In reality the Vatican has for years — well before Francis — been debating how to modernize its communications.

It has long run large radio and TV operations but had a relatively small communications office for the world's largest faith organization. Reporters have been frustrated by a press office run by one, albeit friendly, Jesuit and press releases to global media released only in Italian.

In part because of the aforementioned debacle involving Bishop Williamson, efforts were stepped up.

In 2010, the Vatican spent $6 million to create a high-definition mobile television studio to better broadcast images of the pope. Around that time the Vatican also announced a partnership with Google to create a Vatican YouTube channel. Then in December 2012 it launched @pontifex, a Twitter feed that now has close to 10 million followers in at least six languages.

The rub is, the whole attitude was still "we go to the world. It wasn't we look into the world, it was the world comes to us," said Rocco Palmo, a well-known blogger on Vatican and U.S. church news. "Williamson was the bright line. This is a big learning curve for the whole church, which is hierarchical, it's not used to people talking back."

Palmo says Pope Benedict doesn't get credit for being the one under whom the Vatican began these discussions, in part because the German theologian never stopped being known for his quarter-century tenure as a doctrine enforcer (before he became pope).

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