WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Archbishop Richard Smith ponders a reporter's question at the annual media breakfast.
The Vatican has been quick to embrace the social networks but dioceses have been cautious. The Edmonton Archdiocese is on Facebook and Archbishop Richard Smith has a blog. Soon a Twitter account may be opened.
At his annual meeting with local media, Smith spoke about the need for the Church to join the social networks but expressed some hesitancy.
"The Church needs to be there; I get that," he said. "However, that requires a very significant and considered understanding of this reality.
"And this is where I readily admit my need to be informed and to study because I'm not part of that social network and the Church is very gradually getting there."
One of Smith's concerns is that social networking could be "a sort of a vortex that can just absorb all of your time" when you need to be doing so many other things.
Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis have led the way, getting on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, Benedict called the social networks the new agora of modern society, referring to the gathering places ancient Greeks set up for public discourse.
"The development of social networks calls for commitment," Benedict once commented.
"People are there engaged in building relationships, making friends, looking for answers to their questions, being entertained but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how.
"The networks are increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society inasmuch as they bring people together on the basis of fundamental needs."
The pope also said social networks are nourished by aspirations rooted in the human heart. "That's why we want to be there," the archbishop said.
Smith met with reporters May 13 at St. Joseph Seminary following a breakfast. The meeting is an annual event designed to bring Church concerns out into the public.
The archbishop said he recently read Pope Benedict's statement for World Communications Day and realized the former pope was giving him "a whole lot of homework."
In the statement, Benedict called social networks "portals of truth and faith" and new spaces for the New Evangelization. "He is really challenging us to a whole new way of thinking, of doing new things," Smith said.
"But he also highlights the deeper issues that are involved and this is where the Church needs to pay close attention."
The popularity of social networks points to the basic human need to connect with others. "And in those connections, in those relationships and interactions, we see the formation not just of the individual human person but also of human community."
If this is in fact what the social networks are all about, "then obviously the Church wants to be there with the voice of the Gospel," Smith said.
As he spoke to the Church about this, Pope Benedict raised a couple of principles, the key one being that the Church must have "a considered understanding" of the social networks before joining them.
"If social networking is increasingly the way in which the social fabric is being knitted together, then the Church wants to be there," Smith told reporters.
"So we are going to have to take a look ourselves how are we going to make this happen. I don't think is something we can avoid any longer."
The archdiocese has been on the web for years now. "I've got a blog and I'm on Facebook but it's in a way that's not interactive," the archbishop said.
"The challenge for us is as Church there are limited resources in terms of time, finances and personnel."
At the meeting, a reporter pointed out that Edmonton is huge in terms of social media, particularly for Twitter. "We just had Twitter awards in the city," he said.
Smith said one challenge around Twitter is that it limits messages to 140 characters. "To put all that the Church would want to say on a particular issue into a sound bite is a real challenge."