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Bishops get their mitres in a twitter

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William Crawley | 10:19 UK time, Tuesday, 4 August 2009

twitter-zoomed-out1.jpgBishop Jonathan Blake is not impressed by the Archbishop of Westminster's warnings about the spiritual, social and emotional dangers of social networking sites. Bishop Blake is a former priest of the Church of England who now heads the Open Episcopal Church. He's also a blogging cleric who has conducted services on the internet.

He told The Daily Telegraph: "The Archbishop of Westminster warns about the dangers of electronic isolation and relationships mediated through the keyboard. Of course there are dangers and wise parents and balanced adults will guard against them. However, there are greater dangers to relationships perhaps in Roman Catholicism. I have counselled those heartbroken that a member of their family had been snatched from them into a closed order of Nuns, others sucked into the loneliness of the celibate priesthood, many more isolated into religious fanaticism, others damaged by the homophobia, authoritarianism and sexism enshrined in church policy."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, said this weekend: "Facebook and MySpace might contribute towards communities, but I'm wary about it. Among young people often a key factor in their committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships. They throw themselves into a friendship or network of friendships, then it collapses and they're desolate. It's an all-or-nothing syndrome that you have to have in an attempt to shore up an identity; a collection of friends about whom you can talk and even boast."

These are not, I think, the musings of a technophobe: Vincent Nichols is one of the most media-savvy church leaders one could hope to meet. They represent a pastoral concern that is echoed by a number of recent scientific studies. In April, scientists at the University of California published research showing that some networking sites could "numb" our sense of morality and make us indifferent to others' suffering. Plainly, all new communicative technologies -- telephones, televisions, the internet, and whatever comes next -- present both opportunities and dangers. I don't think the archbishop was suggesting that young people should stay away from social networking sites; merely that we should be conscious of the dangers they face in order to offer additional support.

There are now a number of Facebook groups challenging Vincent Nichols, some portraying him as a luddite. I've found one or two Facebook groups also supporting his comments. I don't think the archbishop has a profile on Facebook (at least I can't find one that is not obviously a fake), but he does have a Twitter profile which publishes details of events at the diocese of Westminster.



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