The faithful will now be able to keep up with the Catholic Church's news and opinions via Facebook and Twitter. The Vatican has announced the launch of a social media-integrated official news website, news.va, that will make heavy use of those social networks. Reports say it'll be introduced to the public with a click of a mouse by Pope Benedict XVI himself.
Although several Vatican-related entities, such as the Vatican Museums and the official L'Osservatore Romano newspaper, have well-trafficked websites, the Curia has been timid about the use of new technologies.
News.va will function essentially as a Vatican and Catholic Church-related news aggregator. The site, which will initially publish stories in only English and Italian, will republish stories from L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, Vatican Television, the Fides news agency and from Vatican media relations. Livestreaming of Papal events will also be featured, along with links to homilies, statements, and speeches. Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese-language versions of the site will reportedly be launched over the next few months.
News.va will be stripped down, with navigation primarily centered on social media. Users won't be able to search through news archives, but they will be able to post links on Twitter and share stories on their Facebook walls.
The Catholic Church, in the eyes of many observers, has had a severe public-relations problem in past years that's been exacerbated by clumsy interaction with the media.
Interestingly, the Church bureaucrat behind the site, Msgr. Claudio Maria Celli of the Pontificial Council for Social Communications, chose to publicly blast church PR efforts in a sneak-preview session of the new website given to the Associated Press:
I think that we must educate the Roman Curia of what is the real meaning of communication […] Little by little they will perceive that this is the real meaning to be present, to have a relevance.
Celli's office has been instrumental in encouraging the Vatican to take a more proactive stance towards digital media; they recently held a Vatican blogger meetup timed to coordinate with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, among other things. The meetup was designed in part to help examine how the Catholic Church could reach journalists, politicians, activists, and other influencers via social media.
John Paul II's beatification also marked another Vatican first: A Facebook page dedicated to the late Pope that included streaming audio and video. Of course, this isn't the church's first foray into the future; the Vatican also has plans to build Europe's largest solar plant.
[Image: Flickr user Epsos]