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Diana McCarty on Fri, 1 Mar 2002 16:19:58 +0100 (CET)

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1. Today's revolution in social communications involves a fundamental
reshaping of the elements by which people comprehend the world about
them, and verify and express what they comprehend. The constant
availability of images and ideas, and their rapid transmission even from  
continent to continent, have profound consequences, both positive and
negative, for the psychological, moral and  social development of persons,  
the structure and functioning of societies, intercultural communications,  
and the perception and transmission of values, world views, ideologies,
and religious beliefs.

The truth of these words has become clearer than ever during the past
decade. Today it takes no great stretch of the imagination to envisage  
the earth as an interconnected globe humming with electronic
transmissions-a chattering planet nestled in the provident silence of  
space. The ethical question is whether this is contributing to authentic
human development and helping individuals and peoples to be true to their
transcendent destiny.

And, of course, in many ways the answer is yes. The new media are powerful  
tools for education and cultural enrichment, for commercial activity and  
political participation, for intercultural dialogue and
understanding; and, as we point out in the document that accompanies  this
one, they also can serve the cause of religion. Yet this coin has another
side. Media of communication that can be used for the good of persons and
communities can be used to exploit, manipulate, dominate, and corrupt.

2. The Internet is the latest and in many respects most powerful in a  
line of media-telegraph, telephone, radio, television-that for many people
have progressively eliminated time and space as obstacles to communication
during the last century and a half. It has enormous consequences for 
individuals, nations, and the world.

In this document we wish to set out a Catholic view of the Internet, as a
starting point for the Church's participation in dialogue with other
sectors of society, especially other religious groups, concerning the
development and use of this marvelous technological instrument. The
Internet is being put to many good uses now, with the promise of many
more, but much harm also can be done by its improper use. Which it will
be, good or harm, is largely a matter of choice-a choice to whose making
the Church brings two elements of great importance: her commitment to the
dignity of the human person and her long tradition of moral wisdom.

3. As with other media, the person and the community of persons are
central to ethical evaluation of the Internet. In regard to the message
communicated, the process of communicating, and structural and systemic
issues in communication, “the fundamental ethical principle is this: The
human person and the human community are the end and measure of the use
of the media of social communication; communication should be by persons
to persons for the integral development of persons.

The common good-?the sum total of social conditions which allow people,
either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully
and more easily?-provides a second basic principle for ethical evaluation
of social communications. It should be understood inclusively, as the
whole of those worthy purposes to which a community's members commit
themselves together and which the community exists to realize and
sustain. The good of individuals depends upon the common good of their

The virtue disposing people to protect and promote the common good is
solidarity. It is not a feeling of ?vague compassion or shallow distress?
at other people's troubles, but ?a firm and persevering determination to  
commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and
of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all?.
Especially today solidarity has a clear, strong international
dimension; it is correct to speak of, and obligatory to work for, the
international common good.

4. The international common good, the virtue of solidarity, the
revolution in communications media and information technology, and the
Internet are all relevant to the process of globalization.

To a great extent, the new technology drives and supports globalization,
creating a situation in which ?commerce and communications are no longer
bound by borders?. This has immensely important
consequences. Globalization can increase wealth and foster development; it
offers advantages like ?efficiency and increased production... greater 
unity among peoples... a better service to the human family?. But the
benefits have not been evenly shared up to now. Some individuals,
commercial enterprises, and countries have grown enormously wealthy while
others have fallen behind. Whole nations have been excluded almost
entirely from the process, denied a place in the new world taking
shape. “Globalization, which has profoundly transformed economic systems
by creating unexpected possibilities of growth, has also resulted in many
people being relegated to the side of the road: unemployment in the more
developed countries and extreme poverty in too many countries of the
Southern Hemisphere continue to hold millions of women and men back from
progress and prosperity.

It is by no means clear that even societies that have entered into the
globalization process have done so entirely as a matter of free, informed
choice. Instead, “many people, especially the disadvantaged, experience
this as something that has been forced upon them rather than as a process  
in which they can actively participate.

In many parts of the world, globalization is spurring rapid, sweeping
social change. This is not just an economic process but a cultural one,
with both positive and negative aspects. ?Those who are subjected to it
often see globalization as a destructive flood threatening the social
norms which had protected them and the cultural points of reference which
had given them direction in life....Changes in technology and work
relationships are moving too quickly for cultures to respond.

5. One major consequence of the deregulation of recent years has been a
shift of power from national states to transnational corporations. It is
important that these corporations be encouraged and helped to use their
power for the good of humanity; and this points to a need for more
communication and dialogue between them and concerned bodies like the

Use of the new information technology and the Internet needs to be
informed and guided by a resolute commitment to the practice of solidarity
in the service of the common good, within and among nations. This
technology can be a means for solving human problems, promoting the
integral development of persons, creating a world governed by justice and
peace and love. Now, even more than when the Pastoral Instruction on the
Means of Social Communications Communio et Progressio made the point more
than thirty years ago, media have the ability to make every person 
everywhere “a partner in the business of the human race.

This is an astonishing vision. The Internet can help make it real—for
individuals, groups, nations, and the human race—only if it is used in
light of clear, sound ethical principles, especially the virtue of 
solidarity. To do so will be to everyone's advantage, for ?we know one
thing today more than in the past: we will never be happy and at peace
without one another, much less if some are against others?. This will be
an expression of that spirituality of communion which implies ?the
ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a
gift from God,? along with the ability ?to ?make room' for our brothers
and sisters, bearing ?each other's burdens' (Gal. 6, 2) and resisting the 
selfish temptations which constantly beset us?.

6. The spread of the Internet also raises a number of other ethical
questions about matters like privacy, the security and confidentiality of
data, copyright and intellectual property law, pornography, hate sites, 
the dissemination of rumor and character assassination under the guise of 
news, and much else. We shall speak briefly about some of these things
below, while recognizing that they call for continued analysis and
discussion by all concerned parties. Fundamentally, though, we do not view
the Internet only as a source of problems; we see it as a source of
benefits to the human race. But the benefits can be fully realized only if
the problems are solved.



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