Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For Pope2You, a Pope-Less Launch

On Sunday's World Communications Day, somebody behind the walls flipped a switch and threw open the doors to Pope2You, the Holy See's Web 2.0 portal.

Even so, the moment marked yet another blown opportunity by the Vatican media shop, and even upwards -- if they were really serious about the new venture, the launch honors would've been done by B16 himself.

Sure, he takes pride in being the "Pope of Words," but into his pontificate's fifth year, while shots exist of Joseph Ratzinger tickling the ivories in the white robes, speaking to the press at 35,000 feet, examining manuscripts at the Vatican Library and appearing in the studios (above) of Vatican Radio (itself launched by a Pope in 1931), never once has the reigning pontiff been captured at a keyboard -- ergo, for all his newfound bullishness on the import of new technology, the message will ring hollow until a laptop appears, even fleetingly, on the Apartment's main desk and the world gets to see it.

Not for nothing, after all, does Pius XII's beloved typewriter remain enshrined at the Home Office.

Granted, Benedict's never been the tech-savvy type -- any cyber-work he's needed has always been handled by aides. Yet while words go a long way, the computer screen is more like its boob-tube predecessor than tends to be realized; the web might be more conducive to text than TV, but it still relies heavily on visuals to back up the words and give them life. When you mix in the nature of a church whose message-strategy leans so heavily upon the central figure of Peter's successor and his charge to "strengthen [his] brothers" -- and the current Pauline Year B16 designated in tribute to the church's first "great communicator" -- the Pope's assurances earlier this year of having "learned the lesson that... the Holy See will have to pay greater attention" to the internet, both as information-source and communion-builder, only amp up the reality that the pledge's concrete proof depends directly on tangible reinforcement from the top.

After January's debut of the Vatican's Google-built YouTube channel, Sunday's launch marked this year's second rollout of a major add-on to the Holy See's web presence. Yet even as it remains the Apartment's custom for a photo to be taken and released of the Pope signing his major documents on the day of their publication to underscore the weight they carry, the newly-intensified 'net outreach that bears Benedict's name and image still waits on the same treatment... and 'til that change comes, for all the time and energy put into it, the effort's intent to connect will just continue to fall flat.

Bottom line: what's a Pope2You without the Pope?