The Vatican is getting closer to naming Isidore of Seville as the patron saint of the Internet. The decision is being discussed as the Roman Catholic Church prepares a document on "ethics and the Internet."

The final decision on the patron saint will be made by Pope John Paul II, though the Vatican has not yet announced when that will happen. The choice will be only a small part of the Catholic Church's consideration of the Internet, which is a subject of deep concern for the church because of moral problems raised by instant world-wide communication available through the Internet, and especially its abuse by pornographers.

A man of wide knowledge, Isidore, one of the church's leading intellectuals, was born sometime between 560 and 570, eventually becoming bishop of Seville, in Spain. His name was well known to scholars of the medieval church. But most contemporary Catholics were unaware of Isidore until 1999, when he was named as a possible patron saint for the Internet.

The proposal was made by an organization called Internet Observation Services (SOI) after it was asked by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications to suggest a saint who could serve as guide and protector to millions of computer operators and "cybernauts"—addicts of the Internet—around the world.

SOI declared that Isidore was the most suitable saint for the role. For many centuries, he was considered as a man ahead of his time. He wrote a form of dictionary, called Etymologies, with a structure similar to what is now called a database. Like the World Wide Web, Etymologies put at the disposal of its readers massive amounts of knowledge. An encyclopedia in 20 volumes, it contained information on the seven liberal arts, and subjects such as medicine, agriculture, architecture, the books and offices of the church, and other religious subjects. It was an extremely popular reference work.

The news reports about Isidore in 1999 prompted some Catholics to suggest more familiar names for the job of Internet guide, such as the Archangel Gabriel, who revealed to the Virgin Mary that she was to give birth to Christ. "The Internet is all about message-bearing," said Sister Lavinia Byrne, Internet columnist for the leading Catholic magazine, the Tablet. "And the ultimate message-bearer is the Archangel Gabriel." However, Gabriel was apparently ruled out by the Vatican because he is already patron saint of social communication and the media.

At a meeting in Rome this month the Vatican seems to have come a step closer to confirming Isidore's new role.

Bishop Pierfranco Pastore, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told ENI that during the annual meeting of the council, from March 12 to 16, its 30 members discussed the Internet ethics document under preparation—"a complicated and demanding subject," according to the bishop.

"During the debate, which resulted in a global vision of the ethical problems of the Internet, some participants pointed out that various groups had asked the Holy See to name, for users of the Internet, a patron saint, who could in fact be Saint Isidore."

However, Bishop Pastore told ENI that it was not up to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to choose the patron saint for the Web.

That decision will be taken by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The congregation will send a recommendation to Pope John Paul, who will make the final choice.

Part of Catholic tradition is the naming of saints as patrons initially for churches, but also for cities, nations and categories of people or professions.

According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, "the custom of having patron saints for churches arose from the practice of building churches over the tombs of martyrs."

In the past patron saints for cities and professions were often chosen not by the hierarchy but simply by the Catholic public's attachment to a particular aspect—real or imaginary—of a saint's life.

Ironically, the immediacy of the Internet itself seems to be ensuring that Isidore will become its patron. He is now featured on at least 1,280 Web sites, most of them mentioning his potential role as Internet patron and some mistakenly declaring he has already been given the job.

Related Elsewhere

Other media coverage of Isidore includes:
Internet's proposed saint may prove to be a godsend | While Isidore looks like a sure thing, groups still lobby for alternates — Chicago Tribune (Mar. 5, 2001)

Net gain for saint and sinners | The Church reassesses the 'seedy' image of the Internet in order to recruit computer users as new converts — The Guardian (Feb. 22, 2001)

Saint of Cyber — Peter Sinclair, The New Zealand Herald (Feb. 22, 2001)

Vatican to give Internet its patron saint | A look at St. Isidore — The Times, London (Feb. 10, 2001)

Patron saint of the Internet imminent | Dutch bishop says Vatican ready to announce Saint Isidore of Seville — Ananova (Feb. 4, 2001)

When the saints go logging on — BBC (June 14, 1999) and The Catholic Encyclopedia also have entries about Isidore.