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English bishop says uncharitable use of social media a 'grave matter'
Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — An English bishop asked Catholics to use Lent as a time to repent of sins committed on social media.

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth described the uncharitable use of blogs, Facebook and Twitter as a "grave matter."

Using social media for abuse or to attack the reputations of other people was a direct sin against the Eighth Commandment, forbidding people from "bearing false witness" against their neighbors, he said in a pastoral letter released March 19.

"We must exercise discretion, respect others and their privacy and not engage in slander, gossip and rash judgment," the bishop wrote in the document that was to be distributed in parishes the weekend of March 22-23.

"We must avoid calumny, that is, slurring and damaging people, and not spread abroad their sins and failings," he said.

The bishop encouraged the faithful to ask themselves "How do I use Facebook or Twitter? Am I charitable when blogging? Do I revel in other people's failings?

"All this is grave matter," he said.

"Yet when we think of our news media and TV, in which fallen celebrities are pilloried, reputations shredded and people's sins exposed, it sometimes seems our popular culture thrives on breaking this commandment," he added.

Bishop Egan invited parishioners to turn away from such sins by praying regularly and by participating in the sacrament of reconciliation.

The bishop's comments came a week after Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster asked a deacon in his diocese "to voluntarily pause from placing new posts" on his Protect the Pope blog.

Bishop Campbell also asked Deacon Nick Donnelly "to enter into a period of prayer and reflection on the duties involved for ordained bloggers/website administrators to truth, charity and unity in the church," according to a statement released by the Lancaster Diocese in early March.

The blog often was controversial because it was critical of the actions of church leaders, accusing them of violating church teaching.

Since Deacon Donnelly agreed to Bishop Campbell's request, guest bloggers have been invited to submit posts to the blog. A regular writer is Martina Donnelly, the deacon's wife.

Father Tim Finigan, a priest of London's Southwark Archdiocese and author of the Hermeneutic of Continuity blog, questioned in a March 16 post the "practical wisdom of attempting to censor the blogosphere." He argued that censored bloggers would find new ways to express their thoughts.

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