Monday, September 25, 2006

Cardinals of the Holy Wired Church

Enough lace for you? ... Happy Monday.

The now-blogging cardinal-archbishop of Boston is wending his way around Italy after a hectic weekend, all of which was chronicled for the sight of the world.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap presided at a weekend liturgy marking the feast of St Pio of Pietrelcina, the 20th century Capuchin mystic, and his new page is brimming with photos of O'Malley walking around Rome with his secretary, Fr Brian Bachand... who'll probably be hearing from some more people he hasn't heard from in 20 years.

While Cardinal Sean's blog is the most prominent of its kind, it isn't the first from an American bishop, nor cardinal. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles blogged during his archdiocese's synod in 2003, and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon keeps a weekly online column, the "Monday Memo," to address various diocesan news and whatever else he feels is of interest. Others -- Bishop Cupich of Rapid City comes to mind -- have blogged ad limina visits or momentarily dabbled in the technology at various points, but nothing of the scale and seeming success which the Cardinal Sean blog has had since its Thursday rollout.

Readers of the Boston prelate's blog can leave public comments, but one component it lacks is an e.mail address. This occurred to me over the weekend while flipping through a newly-arrived copy of the Annuario Pontificio 2006. (Didn't want to buy it, but had to -- the hefty cost is an occupational hazard.... As a friend said of the $35 shipping charge, "Well, that's how much it costs to ship a brick.")

As it's the book most of the global hierarchy uses as its reference, the Annuario -- the yearly snapshot of church stats you never thought you'd be curious about but might find yourself in need of -- contains the best collection of contact information around. And while the substantial uptick of e.mail addresses listed for individual bishops since 2001 is significant, even more notable is the number of cardinals who have published their e.mail information -- 66 of the 179 cardinals as of January 1, and the March crop of 15 new red-hats increased the easy-access crowd by three. Considering that practically all the published addresses belong to cardinals under 80 and, therefore, eligible to enter the conclave, over half of the papacy's electoral college can now be reached with one click.

Especially among the first-world prelates, most of the listed addresses are either official (i.e. on a diocesan domain) or directed to the cardinal's secretary. Yet the lion's share of the rest are hosted by private domains, with a sizable sprinkling of princes of the church making use Yahoo or Hotmail accounts.


In the Vatican, only three curial cardinals (Ignace Moussa I Daoud at Oriental Churches, Lozano at Health Care and Nicora of APSA) have made their 'net availability public, and much of the Holy See remains on a learning curve with regard to the technology; post-its may be a Ratzinger office-supply staple, but a computer is not. Some dicastery heads still have their e.mails printed out by staffers, and the only published addresses for most offices are the catch-all accounts assigned to each. (Having seen some of what these receive, it's an understandable privacy.) And not all that long ago, one newly-arrived prefect had to get up to speed quickly. He'd never had his own e.mail account, which was a requisite of his new job given the sensitivity of much of his correspondence.

Suffice it to say, he's gotten the hang of it.