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Vatican to control ‘.catholic’ internet domain

Mgr Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (CNS photo)

The Vatican is in line to control the new Internet address extension “.catholic” and decide who is allowed to use it.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit corporation that co-ordinates the assignment of internet domain names and addresses around the world, announced the Vatican’s formal application today in London.

The corporation is overseeing a huge expansion in the number of internet extensions beyond the standard .com, .org., .edu and .gov. The extensions formally are known as generic top-level domains. The assignment of country-code top-level domains, like the Vatican’s own .va, will not be affected by the change.

Mgr Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said that the Vatican’s application to control the top-level domain .catholic “is a recognition of how important the digital space is for the Church”.

Controlling the domain “will be a way to authenticate the Catholic presence online”, Mgr Tighe said. The Vatican plans to allow “institutions and communities that have canonical recognition” to use the extension, “so people online – Catholics and non-Catholics – will know a site is authentically Catholic”.

The Vatican does not plan to allow individual bloggers or private Catholics to use “.catholic”, Mgr Tighe said. Use of the domain would be limited to those with a formal canonical recognition: dioceses, parishes and other territorial church jurisdictions; religious orders and other canonically recognised communities; and Catholic institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals.

The Vatican filed four separate applications for new domain names, seeking to control “.catholic” and its equivalent in other languages using Latin letters, as well as the equivalent of the word “Catholic” in the Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese alphabets.

The fee for each application was $185,000 (£120,000), which Mgr Tighe said “is a lot of money, but if you think of the money you have to spend to maintain a Church structure,” and then consider how important the structure of the Catholic presence on the Internet is, it was a good investment.

Controlling the domain name will promote “a more cohesive and organised presence” of the Church online, “so the recognised structure of the Church can be mirrored in the digital space”.

In addition to the fee, the Vatican and other applicants for new generic top-level domains had to fill out complicated forms and must submit to background checks to ensure they are the best representative of the name they chose and to prove they have the financial, technical and institutional stability to run the domain, are not involved in criminal activity and have no history of “cyber-squatting” – registering a name more properly associated with someone else and trying to sell it at an inflated price.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has set up a process for resolving conflicting claims to the same or very similar names, although an auction of some extensions is possible. It said that of the 1,930 applications received, “there are 230 domain names for which at least two applications were submitted, involving a total of 751 applications”.

The corporation did not announce any claim to .catholic besides that of the Vatican.

The vetting process is ongoing and even entities that appear to have a right to the name and the ability to run the new domain are unlikely to have anything online before spring 2013, according to the corporation.

When the internet corporation began accepting applications in January for new Internet extensions, there were about two dozen approved generic top-level domains, including .info, which was added in 2000, and .travel, which was added in 2004.

The current expansion of top domains will be the largest in Internet history and is likely to include the names of large companies as well as cities and popular interests: for example, .nyc, .london, and .music all were expected to be among the new domains.