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Vatican leaders are now calling for Catholics on the internet who do not meet their approval to be censored. The censorship would come in the denial of official certification from the Holy See.
Precisely how such a process would work was not specifically addressed within the final Youth Synod document, or any other place at the moment. What is clear is that leaders in the Vatican are feeling the heat and are concerned about continuing to lose control of their carefully constructed narrative.
Paragraph 146 of the final approved Synod document speaks to the need for creating "certification systems for Catholic websites, to counter the spread of fake news regarding the Church."
In March, the Vatican itself was taken to task for presenting its own "fake news": a deliberately altered photo of a letter from Pope Benedict supposedly praising the "theology of Pope Francis."
However, some in the media, including faithful Catholic internet sites the Vatican now seeks to censor, were suspicious, and when everything eventually came out (as it always does), the Vatican was forced to admit that it had indeed deliberately doctored the photo to change significantly the point of the story. The man responsible, Vatican Communications Secretary Msgr. Dario Viganò (no relation to Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò), eventually resigned in disgrace.
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Since Church Militant specifically has already been unfavorably singled out by a semi-official publication of the Vatican, La Civiltà Cattolica, in June of 2017, Church Militant is presumed to be one of the internet sites accused of fake news and thereby targeted.
The threat to apostolates that do most of their work on their independent internet sites and are administered by faithful Catholics seems peculiar to many — especially coming from a Vatican that was, in point of fact, actually discovered and humiliated for the very same action it so ardently claims it now wants to prevent.
Aside from the somewhat totalitarian-minded approach to dealing with criticism, which Pope Francis has said publicly he welcomes, the mechanism of how such a "certification" would work is a complete mystery.
For example, what would be the criteria for applying and being granted certification? How many sites would be eligible? Is the Vatican communications office sufficiently staffed with people fluent in multiple languages to review each website during the application?
How frequently would the renewal process be triggered? Would a renewal process even exist? What would be the mechanism for revoking a "certification" already granted? (The presumption is that the certification would not be in perpetuity, but even that is a presumption.)
Would websites continue to be monitored following certification, and if so (which would seem almost necessary) by whom, how frequently, to what degree? (Some websites, like Church Militant, churn out a large amount of content every day.) Would everything on a given website be monitored, including ads? What if the website joined a coalition of other websites and one or more of the others was not certified?
Would "certification" apply to just postings designated as news, or would it extend to commentary? And if commentary would be included, would certifiers sitting in the Vatican communications basement be sufficiently trained in cultural nuances and social circumstances to render a verdict on the commentary?
If a given commentary on a newsworthy issue were determined to be out of bounds by the Vatican toleration and certification police, would that one instance trigger an automatic revocation of the certification? If not, how many "chances" would be granted before the certification would be withdrawn?
If certification were to be withdrawn, could it be reapplied for, and following what length of time, under what conditions? Would applying for certification entail a financial cost, an "application fee" — because a large number of people would presumably need to be hired (and compensated) by Rome to establish and maintain an operation like this, if it were being done fairly. Literally thousands of articles would have to be read weekly, perhaps even daily, as the internet continues to grow, because every single posting would have the potential to trigger some kind of audit and then be set aside for review.
The internal bureaucracy that would need to be established and then maintained and continually updated to oversee and run the "Holy See Catholic Social Media Certification Department" would become a behemoth and, given how personalities and kingdoms are constantly at war within the walls of the Vatican, one could only imagine the never-ending turf wars that would ensue from this poorly thought-out idea.
But we can also imagine that much of this has already been considered and ruled out as impractical; that the real reason any talk like this is being presented in official Church documents is because it creates the appearance that some Catholic sites are simply untrustworthy and should not be followed. So a heavy-handed censorship passed off as official Vatican "certification" has been introduced into the conversation with an appeal to the popular understanding of "fake news." (No, folks, this isn't fooling anyone with a pulse.)
But "fake news" is to some degree in the eye of the beholder, and we can easily see how those with agendas that an independent Catholic media keep in check would want to use the "certification" process to steamroll their critics out of existence.
There is one point, however, worth concluding with: Since the "certification" would be immediately suspected or even correctly viewed by faithful Catholics as "fake" in and of itself, a tool for modernists in the Church to try and silence opposition from faithful, orthodox Catholics, its very absence would serve the exact opposite purpose: as a kind of seal of approval for orthodoxy, the proverbial badge of honor.
And once that understanding took hold in the minds of the Catholic internet world, the presence of the Vatican "seal of certification" might very well begin to work as a type of "scarlet letter" on sites that did give it prominence.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th-century novel The Scarlet Letter, the letter "A" that Hester Prynne had to wear called attention to her adultery. Given the current climate in the Church and the men running the Vatican, faithful Catholics may begin to see that "seal of certification" as a scarlet letter "A" for apostasy — and turn away from such websites.
Censorship is never a good idea, much like distorting the truths of the Faith and twisting them to the ways of the world. Neither turns out well in the end. But for the faithful Catholic websites, it could prove to be a boon.
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