4.6.4 Ethical Use of Communication Technology


1. God’s Gift. The ability to communicate is another of God’s uncountable blessings. God speaks to us in varied ways, and blesses us with the ability to communicate with Him and with each other. This gift must be used well, in accordance with the timeless principles of the Gospel. Accordingly, the Catholic Diocese of Lansing wishes to restate some of the principles that govern communication by employees and volunteers on behalf of its parishes, schools, agencies, and diocesan offices.

2. Electronic Communication. For most persons, electronic communication has become an essential element of modern life. It thus is equally vital to the Church’s evangelical presence in the world. The realm of electronic communication is constantly developing and evolving. Without limitation, it includes telephone, voicemail, email, text messages, Skype, blogs, dropboxes and other “cloud” exchanges, websites, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and a host of related and novel forms.

3. The Source of a Communication. A person who is communicating on behalf of a parish, school, agency, or diocesan office should provide name and accurate contact information. A parish, school, or agency should use a suitable unique domain name in its communications (or should seek guidance from Faith Catholic regarding an alternative Catholic email system). An employee and volunteer who use electronic communication in ministry should do so from a parish, school, agency, or diocesan source, and not, e.g., from a personal email or Facebook account. Ministerial communication from a personal source, such as a responsive text from a personal cell phone, should be minimized to the extent practicable. Reflecting the unitary nature of the vocation, a cleric or religious may maintain a single electronic presence without attempting a division between ministerial life and personal life. No one may establish an electronic presence for a parish, school, agency or diocesan office without the permission of the pastor, principal, agency director, or diocesan department chair.

4. The Content of a Communication. A person who is communicating on behalf of a parish, school, agency, or diocesan office should communicate in a manner that reflects well on the parish, school, agency, or diocesan office. The communication should be of appropriate tone and, where applicable, must unfailingly reflect the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church. Likewise the content of communication must be fully in accordance with the requirements of civil law, including the protection given to the intellectual property of others and the right of each person not to have his or her recognizable image displayed without permission. Confidential information must not be disclosed without permission.

5. The Recipient of a Communication. An employee or volunteer who receives a communication should reply or take other appropriate action in a timely fashion. A communication that is received must not be forwarded or disclosed except in furtherance of the employee or volunteer’s responsibilities at the parish, school, agency, or diocesan office. An employee or volunteer who receives an inappropriate or offensive communication should notify the appropriate person at the parish, school, agency, or diocese, and must not be a source for the further general circulation of such material.

6. Particular Caution with Regard to Electronic Communication. Because it is fast, easily disseminated, and durable (often permanent), electronic communication requires great prudence, accuracy, clarity, charity, and caution. An employee or volunteer should never communicate in haste or in anger, and should write as though any person being discussed will later have full access to what is written. An employee or volunteer should not use electronic communication in ministry without being reasonably familiar with the technology, including the settings appropriate the ministerial use.

7. Particular Caution when Communicating with the Young. In every setting, adults must be careful to avoid situations in which it could appear that the adult is communicating with a young person in an inappropriate or clandestine manner. An employee or volunteer who is communicating with a young person must be certain that the young person’s parents know that communication is occurring and, if they wish, have access to the content of those communications. Thus, for instance, a youth minister could indicate to parents on an annual basis that the youth minister communicates through a parish Facebook page and, in limited circumstances, by text message from the youth minister’s cell phone. An adult must avoid any situation in which a young person has inappropriate access to the adult’s personal life. Thus, for instance, a teacher who communicates with students through Facebook should have a separate Facebook page for relationships unconnected to school. An adult must avoid any communication that could be construed as having any sexual content or overtone. If an adult receives such a communication from a young person, the adult should keep a copy and immediately contact the pastor, principal, agency director, or diocesan department chair. Adults must avoid all one-on-one video interaction with young people. To the extent possible, copies of all electronic communications with youth should be preserved, for everyone’s protection.

8. Oversight of Communication Technology. Any communication source at a parish, school, or agency must be structured so that proper oversight can be accomplished.

9. Rules Governing Specific Ministries. Pastors, pastoral coordinators, school principals, educational administrators, agency directors, and chairs of diocesan departments should provide policies and counsel for communication in the course of the specific ministries that they oversee. Such policies and counsels should be frequently revisited, so that they remain useful as communication technologies continue to develop.

[1] This policy established as particular law on March 26, 2012, and effective that day, by general decree of the Bishop of Lansing.

Date approved by Bishop

Posted by
Msgr. S. J. Raica, chancellor