* Pope gives qualified blessing to social networking
* Says virtual friends can't replace real ones
* Warns of parallel existence, depersonalisation, alienation
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Jan 24 Pope Benedict gave a
qualified blessing to social networking on Monday, praising its
potential but warning that online friendships are no substitute
for real human contact.
The 83-year-old pontiff, who does not have his own Facebook
account, set out his views in a message with a weighty title
that would easily fit into a tweet: "Truth, proclamation and
authenticity of life in the digital age".
He said the possibilities of new media and social networks
offered "a great opportunity", but warned of the risks of
depersonalisation, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers
of having more virtual friends than real ones.
"It is important always to remember that virtual contact
cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with
people at every level of our lives," Benedict said in the
message for the Catholic Church's World Day of Communications.
He urged users of social networks to ask themselves "Who is
my 'neighbour' in this new world?" and avoid the danger of
always being available online but being "less present to those
whom we encounter in our everyday life".
The vast horizons of new media "urgently demand a serious
reflection on the significance of communication in the digital
age," he said.
The pope did not mention any specific social networking site
or application by name, but sprinkled his message with terms
such as "sharing," "friends," and "profiles".
He said social networking can help "dialogue, exchange,
solidarity and the creation of positive relations" but he also
offered a list of warnings.
"Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search
for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is
paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of
parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world,"
"In the search for sharing, for 'friends', there is the
challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the
illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for
The pope is known to write most of his speeches by hand
while his aides manage his forays into cyberspace. In 2009, a
new Vatican website, www.pope2you.net, went live, offering an
application called "The pope meets you on Facebook", and another
allowing the faithful to see the Pope's speeches and messages on
their iPhones or iPods.
The Vatican famously got egg on its face in 2009 when it was
forced to admit that, if it had surfed the web more, it might
have known that a traditionalist bishop whose excommunication
was lifted had for years been a Holocaust denier.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)