The Vatican is reforming its communications – and so must our parishes

'Some dioceses have cottoned on to the modern trend, and realise that when someone Googles them, they need to put their best foot forward'

Sandro Magister, the authoritative Vaticanista, has an interesting report and commentary on what is happening in the world of the Vatican’s communications, which can be read here.

It seems that at last serious work is being done to reform and renew the communications output of the Holy See. At the centre of all of this is Vatican Radio, which is finally catching up with the modern world. Have you ever listened to Vatican Radio? I have not, nor have I ever met anyone who has. Vatican Radio, along with the Osservatore Romano, has to adapt to the new internet age, and Magister’s article seems to indicate, that this is at last happening.

That the Vatican is at last joining the real world with regard to communications is good news. But of course it is not just the Vatican that needs to do this: every diocese and every parish, as well as every religious order, needs to do the same.

Just as many have remarked that the Vatican website is not very good, and has had the same dated and user-unfriendly look for years, further down the food chain, many a diocese has a pretty old fashioned-looking website. This matters because that website may well be the first port of call for many people these days.

Some dioceses have cottoned on to the modern trend, and realise that when someone Googles them, they need to put their best foot forward. Take Lancaster, for example. While I do not wish to make any particular claim for this diocesan site, the fact remains that while I do not live in Lancaster, I have nevertheless noticed it in my internet travels.

The Bishop has a lavishly illustrated blog, a great way for him to communicate with his people – far more effective than old fashioned pastoral letter. Moreover, there is a section of the website that gives one Catholic news from around the world, garnered from a variety of sources. This makes the Lancaster site a one-stop shop for Catholic things, and I would imagine that there are plenty of people in Lancaster who have this site on their list of favourites, if not set as their homepage.

There are two key points to notice about the Lancaster site. Firstly, the site is updated every day which means that the latest news and comment is precisely what it claims to be, and those who log on every day will have something new to read.

Secondly, this does not happen automatically: a person or a team of people is hard at work keeping the site up to date; these people are presumably paid for their work, which means that the diocese of Lancaster has decided that the internet is an important means of communication, and it is worth paying good money to have a creditable internet presence.

I wonder if Lancaster diocese still has a diocesan newspaper? According to Wikipedia, it does. But the truth is that diocesan newspapers, which were once cutting edge, are now no longer read by the younger generation that tends to get its news over the internet.

Parish bulletins are still read (generally, I am told, in the sermon) and are useful, though parishes, like dioceses, need to develop an online presence. After all, if you are reading this, wouldn’t you, if visiting a new place, Google the local Catholic Church in order to find out Mass times?

Let us hope that just as the Vatican manages to catch up with global trends in communication, local churches can too. We are about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – it is worth remembering that Luther had the success he did because he was able to harness the technology of the time. He produced endless pamphlets and books, thanks to the recent invention of printing, which spread the Lutheran message far and wide.

It took Catholics a little time to catch up, and our response to Luther’s pamphleteering and his German Bible and Catechism was the Catechism of St Peter Canisius, numerous Catholic tracts such as those produced by St Edmund Campion, and the wonderful Catholic works of art of Bernini and others. It took time, but it happened. As then, so now – have a look at the HTB website and think how much we still have to do!