Southern Religion

Vatican nixes the idea of a virtual confessional

Senior Catholic Church officials in the UK and US gave the iPhone application “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” their seal of approval, but the Vatican had serious reservations. Agence France-Presse reported:

“It is essential to understand that the rites of penance require a personal dialogue between penitents and their confessor … It cannot be replaced by a computer application,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists.

“I must stress to avoid all ambiguity, under no circumstance is it possible to ‘confess by iPhone’,” he said.

It was created by Little iApps and is on sale for $1.99 via iTunes. According to the Los Angeles Times, developer Patrick Leinen says he worked “with the Rev. Thomas Weinandy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Rev. Dan Scheidt, pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, Ind:”

He said he was inspired by a papal message in January in which the pope asked “that young people may learn to use modern means of social communication for their personal growth and to better prepare themselves to serve society.”

With all of that official assistance, why did no remember that on January 24, Pope Benedict XVI said:

It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI, WWW | , , , | Comments Off on Vatican nixes the idea of a virtual confessional

Watchdog settles with city/state (not FBC Jacksonville)

Jacksonville, Fla., blogger Thomas Rich, who until unmasked in an unjustified criminal investigation blogged anonymously as FBC Jax Watchdog, has settled his suit against the city and state.

Terms include, Watchdog explains:

  • A $50,000 payment to Rich.
  • A meeting with Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford to discuss ethics issues to help develop “conflict of interest code for its detectives.”
  • Development and implementation of “a training program for JSO detectives specifically on constitutional First Amendment issues and legal ramifications that must be considered when issuing investigative subpoenas.”

Rich’s attorney, Michael Roberts, said the separate defamation suit against the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville will continue.

The suit was filed after FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity was silently demolished in 2008 by a still unsatisfactorily explained and, from the point of view of the blogger at the time, secret criminal investigation. The settlement did not involve an admission of fault.


Anonymous blogs permit the relatively powerless to speak what they believe is truth, to power. Power rarely responds graciously. In this case, the unmasking and FBC Jax Watchdog had a serious impact on his life. As his attorney explained:

“Mr. Rich was essentially excommunicated from his church,” his attorney, Michael Roberts, said. “He was a member for 20 years. Sure he was critical of the new leadership at the church, but a lot of members were critical of things they didn’t like.”

The bylaws governing resolution of grievances within that church were and apparently still are heavily loaded against dissent. This case illustrates that an oppressive approach tends to drive debate underground — often into anonymous blogs — and unmasking the blogger does not eliminate that dissent or refute the criticisms. A heavy-handed response in fact underlines the social value of dissent and of the dissenter’s efforts.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | Churches, Religion, WWW | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ABP news pages were hosting malicious software: Update

Update: As of this writing at sunrise late Saturday morning, Sept. 18, connections to the The Associated Baptist Press site site and “partner sites” (Texas Baptist Standard, Missouri Word & Way and Virginia Religious Herald) were no long greeted by the cautionary Google message quoted below. Service was slow, often usually timing out and occasionally sporadically usable andgenerally unusable but apparently possibly cleared of the malware infections which led to the cautionary interruption.

On their Facebook page, ABP apologizes for the interruption and recommends users “may want to run virus and malware scans on your computer as a precaution.”

If you run a version of Windows and have accessed one of the affected sites recently, judging from data acquired via search based on Google’s various warnings and Symantec information about one of the infections involved, a thorough malware scan is indeed a good idea. IMHO, not merely as a precaution.


The Associated Baptist Press site has been blocked by Google for the following reasons:

Of the 107 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 13 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2010-09-17, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2010-09-16.

You can still visit the site, albeit at some risk. Specifically, as Google explained:

This web page at has been reported as an attack page and has been blocked based on your security preferences.

Attack pages try to install programs that steal private information, use your computer to attack others, or damage your system.

Some attack pages intentionally distribute harmful software, but many are compromised without the knowledge or permission of their owners.

But an attack by “a particularly malicious hacker,” as they say? Well, malicious, certainly. All such attacks are.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | WWW | , , , , , | 1 Comment

What are you doing on the Internet?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that you’re probably sending or reading email (62%), using a search engine (49%) or getting the news (43%).

Social networking (38%) like twitter or Facebook is tied with just having fun(38%). Then there’s the ever popular checking the weather (34%), and everything else Pew measured in May is below 30%.

Except for total American adults who used the Internet on an average day (78%).

September 15, 2010 Posted by | WWW | | Comments Off on What are you doing on the Internet?

What happens when an ideological echo chamber is created?

The peril of theologically filtered search engines, especially if mated with news services which have a steep ideological slant, is audience manipulation to create “false facts,” like the health reform death panels.

Conservative echo chamber Fox gets the Republicans

As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones observed:

In other words, Democrats and Independents have changed their viewing habits only slightly while Republicans have flocked to Fox and dropped both CNN and MSNBC in droves. Back in 2000, it turns out, the viewing habits of all three groups were pretty similar. Since then, as Fox has steadily amped up its conservative branding, conservatives have decided that’s all they want to hear.

[H/T: Andrew Sullivan]

September 14, 2010 Posted by | WWW | , | Comments Off on What happens when an ideological echo chamber is created?

Welcome to your [overwhelmed?] tailored-to-some-faith ‘search’ engine

Christian search engine SeekFind is down [as of this writing] due to persecution [“hacking attempts after our recent interview on NPR“]. They say. Or perhaps they asked for a larger audience and it was given in numbers their servers could not bear.

They were, after all, Slashdotted. Mention amid Slashdot’s “News for nerds’ has drowned many an unprepared server in curious geeks, and will drown more in the future.

Jewogle was mentioned in the same NPR story and seems to be clicking alone quite well, thank you.

Likewise the Muslim search engine I’mHalal.

There appears to be a market for theologically filtered search. According to NPR:

I’mHalal says that within the first year since its launch, it is already getting 10 million users a month. With that kind of traffic, these search engines are likely here to stay.

Yes, they can all expect competition.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | WWW | , | Comments Off on Welcome to your [overwhelmed?] tailored-to-some-faith ‘search’ engine

Oops? Again? In the case of FBC Jax Watchdog

Oops is in a way how FBC Jax Watchdog was robbed of his anonymity.

Formerly anonymous blogger Thomas A. Rich’s identity was made public after an unnecessary investigation whose details are still being unearthed in court.

Although some evidence pertaining to the involvement of State Attorney Angela Corey was somehow inadvertently destroyed.

Really, and that destruction is cited as part of an argument against deposing Corey as part of the proceedings.

Oops!” indeed.

Another injustice.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Law, SBC, WWW | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Oops? Again? In the case of FBC Jax Watchdog

Court allows FBC Jax Watchdog case against Assistant State Attorney to proceed

A Florida federal district court refused this week to dismiss the claim by blogger Tom Rich (FBC Jax Watchdog) that Assistant Fla. State Attorney Stephen Siegel violated Rich’s right to speak anonymously, and trampled on the Establishment Clause because defendants had no secular purpose for their actions.

The lawsuit alleges Siegel issued subpoenas that helped Jacksonville police officer Robert Hinson — who was a member of First Baptist Church of Jacksonvilla, Fla. — identify Rich when there was no evidence of criminal activity.

Dismissed in the same action were civil claims against State Attorney Angela Corey for her office’s role.

Rich’s claims against the police officer and against First Baptist were unaffected because they weren’t involved in this motion to dismiss.

Emerging standards for unmasking anonymous bloggers were certainly not met in Rich’s case.

To prevail in this instance, Rich must now prove the violations he alleges. But even at this juncture, the case is a caution for those who would twist legal authority to unmask an anonymous blogger without compelling legal justification. Abuse of power has a price.

[H/T: Religion Clause]

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Law, WWW | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Twurch of England’s reformation

Overnight the Twurch of England Web site became a promotional for British Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for Harlow, Robert Halfon. DNS redirect problems, we are told. And fixed.

<b>Earlier, however, It is, as as The Church Mouse (creator of the site) explained, it was a service which “allows you to follow the conversation in real time” of CofE “Archbishops, Bishops and Clergy on twitter.” Partly via application of twitter’s list functionality, as you may see at right. (No laity, and that’s something of an issue, as you will see below.)

The Mouse offers monthly rankings of the Top 20 twittering bishops and clergy in the CofE from the Twurch of England. The site offers a convenient widget. There is other useful information there. All very nice indeed.

Yes, the Twurch of England has apparently been quite well-received, save with one widely-adopted quibble from David Walker:

The Twurch of England is the Church of England on Twitter. The bishops, the clergy, and the… hang on… it’s only the bishops and the clergy! The laity (ordinary people) are nowhere to be found. This is an unjust state of affairs which sends out the message that the ordinary people are not as important as the bishops and clergy. Being mildly deeply upset about this I started a ‘Reform the Twurch’ campaign yesterday – you can read all of the tweets on the subject via the hashtag #reformthetwurch. It was great fun and a most creative protest. Proceedings were conducted calmly and peacefully, and from time to time nuns came out and brought us tea.

. . .

My challenges to Twurch administrators (The Church Moose and Peter O) are as follows:

1) First of all I think you really need to include CofE laity if you are to go on calling it the Twurch of England. It’s OK, there aren’t many of us and we’re declining in number all the time.

2) Secondly, I understand that you may want to restrict membership of the Twurch of England to members of the Church of England. However, if you don’t find a way to include the wider groups of people (Anglicans, UK Christians) in some way I suspect someone else will. There is an opportunity for a creative individual to form the Anglican Twitter community or the Christian Twitter community, and sooner or later someone will do so.

Commenter Ann Fontaine at The Lead at Episcopal Cafe summed up with:

Love Tweeting clergy – twergy– from the comments. Are there also twishops? but what kind of church has no laity? oh right a dead one.

Which helps explain why there is plenty of twitter traffic tagged #reformthetwurch.

Will Mouse call a Council of the Twurch?

And see to restoration of the former site?

We do hope so.

March 27, 2010 Posted by | Churches, WWW | , , | Comments Off on The Twurch of England’s reformation

Yawn … Most church Web sites ineffective (sky falls, stars go dark, church sites unchanged)

In the world of uh huh, a company called Endis has, the Associated Baptist Press tells us, conducted a survey which found that most church Web sites are uninteractive brochureware which do little or nothing in the way of outreach.

Add opaque and puzzling to their critique. Frustration as a form of digital evangelism, you might say. Whereas others are sleeping pill evangelism. If putting site visitors to sleep wins converts, those church sites are da bomb.

As we warned you, however, no revelations here.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | WWW | , , | Comments Off on Yawn … Most church Web sites ineffective (sky falls, stars go dark, church sites unchanged)