Pope’s plan meets virtual opponents

Despite being one of the oldest institutions in the world, the Catholic Church has never shied away from new information technologies. In 1454, the first book to come off Johann Guttenberg’s printing press was the Bible. Nearly half a millennium later, the inventor of wireless communication, Guglielmo Marconi, worked closely with Pope Pius XI to develop Vatican radio.
This link to novel communication media is perhaps rooted in the supernatural manner by which the church has received much of its knowledge. From the divine inspiration given to the composers of the Bible to the annunciation of the birth of Christ by the archangel Gabriel, information has always been transmitted to Catholics in the most unusual ways.
Today, the new, unusual medium is the Internet.
March 26-28, more than 50 cardinals, archbishops, and bishops from around the world met at a conference in Denver titled, “The New Technologies and the Human Person: Communicating the Faith in the New Millennium.” With buzzwords like the World Wide Web, cyberspace and cross-platform documents — terms normally reserved for high tech Silicon Valley power lunches — reaching attendees in translation through wireless headphones, the church took its first steps toward understanding its role in the emerging society of the information age.
But don’t expect to start attending mass and receiving the sacraments online anytime soon. Conference members quickly determined that the mysteries of the sacraments are not the sorts of things that can be digitized and broadcast through cyberspace. At the Eucharist, one must be personally confronted by the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Substituting the virtual with the real is to cheat Christians of an event that must be immediately present, not reproduced by animated graphics. No one will be confessing sins in virtual reality, a decision that certainly dismayed the holder of a patent on a confession machine which hands out an appropriate number of Hail Marys depending on the severity of one’s sins.
Instead, the church will use cyberspace to bring more people to Christ, spreading the revelation of the Gospels, and perhaps avoiding the dangers of missionary work that gave us so many Jesuit martyrs in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Enthusiasm for new technology is not without risk, however. If we place too much importance in the technology itself, we may lose sight of the Catholic message, leading to a new form of idolatry where the medium becomes the message. Christians must remember that computers are a human invention, not the direct work of God. As such, there is a potential for both good and evil in their application and we must step carefully as we integrate it into our spiritual and secular societies.
Worries aside, the church has already begun its transition toward an online community. The Vatican and its museum have been available on the Web since the first graphic Web browsers. Now, a gargantuan project to digitize rare and ancient manuscripts from the Vatican Library is underway.
Sometimes called “the pope’s secret library” because of the limited number of people who gain access to its stacks, the Vatican Library, founded in 1451, is a treasure trove of historical information on the church and the entire world. Only an institution that has learned patience over 2,000 years could even consider starting this merging of old and new. It will take decades to complete, but the church does not think in terms of individual lifetimes, but centuries.
Aside from the obvious academic value of the works that will be made available, hopes that documents never before seen outside the inner circle of the Vatican have renewed considerable speculation among the more conspiratorially minded.
Many have postulated that the real goal of the church is not religion, but the generation of a global hegemony ruled by the pope. Over the centuries the church has quietly acted in the background, bringing its supporters to political power around the globe and creating a base of wealth and influence that will someday lead to world domination.
The odds that this plan, which has been kept from the public eye for so long, will come to light in newly revealed documents is unlikely in the extreme — the church is not that careless. But maybe, just maybe, something will slip through the cracks, giving paranoids around the world the evidence they have long sought. Barring such a mistake, a complete lack of evidence will be just as condemning, indicating a Vatican cover-up.
Of course, these same paranoids will tell you that the church is facing some mighty stiff competition in their ultimate goals.
Consider the Freemasons, that secret society whose rumored membership has included the likes of George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, George Bush, Bill Clinton and 14 other U.S. presidents, along with political, religious and economic leaders from around the world. Behind the doors of their secret lodges, a satanic conspiracy is slowly evolving that will not lead to outright control of the world, but secret manipulation of the powers that be. George Bush’s “New World Order” was just a euphemism for Masonic domination.
However, the groups that operate publicly are not the real concern. The church and the Freemasons are too visible to successfully maintain a secret agenda for centuries. As it is, the British government is demanding that the Freemasons make their membership lists public, threatening legislation that will finally reveal the truth. No, our real worries should be focussed on the groups that we cannot see, the invisible ones that operate behind the scenes.
Rumors and innuendoes have long circulated about a group called the Illuminati whose single goal is to enslave the whole world in a satanic plot of one world government. Founded, perhaps, in the 1760’s by Adam Weishaupt, a Jesuit priest trained in Canon Law, this super-secret organization, financed by international bankers, has worked not just to control everything, but to indoctrinate the world population in its beliefs. Those who track the operations of the Illuminati even claim that the Catholic Church and the Freemasons are only minor pieces of the grander scheme, acting as agents for the hood-wearing, darkness-shrouded individuals who really control the fate of humanity.
All of which, of course, is a bunch of garbage. Bill Clinton is not a pawn of the Illuminati. The Freemasons, whose real goal is to hang out with drinking buddies and shoot pool, are not conspiring to take over the world. And the church is not working for Satanists. If I am wrong, and the Illuminati is out there, give me a call; I’m ready to sign up.
As the Roman Catholic Church moves online, they will not be trying to brainwash you. Rather, they will be spreading Christ’s message of peace, love and respect for all mankind. Don’t look for veiled plots — you won’t find any. Catholics are not going to force their faith on you. But if you listen, even if you don’t convert, you may take something meaningful away, something that will make you and the world a better place for everyone.
Chris Trejbal’s column appears on alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments by e-mail to [email protected]