by Bishop Richard Pates, DISC Episcopal Moderator

A few weeks ago, I was at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming for a Confirmation celebration at Holy Family Parish.    Warren Air Force Base is one which is responsible for intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads as their payloads. So it’s serious business. During the visit, I was given a briefing as to the capabilities and responsibilities of this command. This briefing included a tour of a training capsule where the two individuals who ultimately turn the keys to dispatch these warheads are trained.

The experience was like an instantaneous stepping back in time. For the technology that governs the operation – all of the computers – are twenty years old dating back to the early 1980s. They fill an entire room and represent the second generation after the initial super computers of Sperry-Rand and IBM literally filled floors of rooms.

The older technology currently in place is more than sufficient to fulfill its deadly mission. We pray earnestly that this will never come to pass. As a matter of fact, the good news is that because of treaties between the United States and Russia, some of these missiles, especially those which are able to disperse warheads to multiple targets, are being disassembled; good, good news indeed!

But as we examined the extensive computers and machines and all that was required to maintain them, our guide pointed out that if the most advanced technology were to be applied to this need, it could possibly be reduced to a palm pilot – a handheld instrument that would accomplish the same task.

This exemplification into the remarkable development of technology over the past 20 years – wherein the product has shrunk dramatically and the application expanded exponentially – gives great insight into where DISC has come as we celebrate our 20th anniversary.

Lou Orbin and all the leadership of DISC – especially the pioneers of this movement who are still with us 20 years later – are to be highly commended for a remarkable contribution to the Catholic Church in the United States and Canada. For it has been through their dedication, hard work, and perseverance that DISC has emerged to become a very viable player among church professionals. What has been especially valuable has been the vision which has come evermore into focus. The apt analogy so visually stunning at Warren Air Force Base is the shrinking of technology equipment. The equipment has been radically downsized while the applications have multiplied – which is also evident in our Church experience.

Over the past 20 years, the purpose of DISC has become clearly focused – focused to support the evangelization mission of the Church. Pope Paul VI in his landmark encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi stated,

The task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. . . . It is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize. (EN, 14)

A member of DISC, therefore, first and foremost is an individual who has a personal commitment to this evangelization mission and regards the utilization of one’s talent and dedication of time and energy in a specific church setting as a part of the total team effort in support of this mission. One’s sense of personal gratification and fulfillment as a professional in technology is enhanced immeasurably if one’s personal spiritual identity meshes seamlessly with that of the Church community.

With the evangelization mission always in mind, the coming together of DISC as an association has seen two practical outcomes emerge over these past twenty years. The first is informal networking by virtue of which knowledge, experience, and best practices, have been shared on a broad basis. This consultation and information sharing have enabled fast progress in a field that is known for its quantum leaps.

Secondly, cooperation and organization have led to buying power which, translated, means the availability of equipment and products at greatly reduced cost. The bottom line of these efforts is not increased profit. The motivation is enhanced service whereby highly improved support is produced at a fraction of the cost, which would be impossible if undertaken independently without the benefit of strong cooperative unity. This approach frees up resources to be more directly applied to the work of the Church as it fulfills its evangelization mission in worship, education, and social outreach.

Over the past two decades, the applications of technology have become more widespread, contributing significantly to enabling the Church to pursue achievement of its primary identity and purpose. While the actual machines have diminished in size, technology is ever more pervasive as an irreplaceable tool.

Information Sharing: Instantaneously by posting on its website recently, the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship was able to inform the entire world of its instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, which gives direction as to the implementation of the recent revision of the Roman Missal. The document in its entirety was able to be in the hands of professionals directly, and thus they were no longer beholden for initial information on news organizations with their interpretations and biases.

Up-to-date as well as historical documents from the Vatican and Holy See, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, dioceses, parishes, organizations, and educational institutions are available with the deft touch of two hands in a matter of minutes. While the extent of information seems overwhelming, its redeeming factor is that it can be sorted through quickly and one is able to land precisely on a point of information or a document which is needed in but a few minutes. It is a library literally always at hand prepared to dispense accurate information.

Business Efficiency: The application of technology serves to provide efficiency in the use of material resources – enhancing stewardship in the service of mission. On the level of a diocese, this means financial tracking, collection and leverage of funds bypassing oftentimes inefficient processes that are heavily labor intensive. This increased efficiency assures that more resources are available to serve the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, rather than being dissipated or merely placed “on ice” without any tangible benefit for mission.

On the level of the parish, technology has proven invaluable in organizing budget and finances and has stabilized collections through automatic deposit, the ACH system. Our schools, too, have saved labor and enhanced percentage of tuition collection through the implementation of automatic deposit and payment thus ensuring that more resources are applied directly to the educational experience. By collecting and sorting through information, our parish data systems facilitate accurate rosters and help organize pastoral planning and the direction a community should move in order to truly infiltrate the Gospel into people’s lives.

Education and Preparation for Pastoral Ministry: The Church has been blessed by a widespread response on the part of ever so many to the call to ministry in many fields such as catechetics, liturgy, youth ministry, church administration, and pastoral ministry. This response has called for education and formation of those who are willing to be directly involved in the work of the Church. Technology has played an ever increasing role in their development by facilitating adult distance learning with interactive features that stimulate growth and generate professional credentials. This dimension of Church service will become ever more critical as the professional church minister and the well-trained volunteer take on more responsibility in the life of the Church and as their training, education, and continuing development are provided for in remote circumstances by the marvels of technology. The utilization of technology is also invaluable in all of our Catholic education settings from the Ph.D. in the university to our Catholic preschool and daycare settings.

The foregoing examples of the application of technology – information sharing, business and efficiency uses, education and formation possibilities – point out the rapid evolution of the Church on two fronts. The first is the development of the life of the ministry of the Church and the second is obviously the rapid development of technology itself. Parallel growth would seem to call for organized, structured, and ongoing conversation between those who are engaged in the day-to-day pastoral mission of the Church and those like you who are familiar with the possibilities and direction of technology. Such a synergy might well serve the purpose of the members of DISC by enabling you to be aware of the needs of the mission of the Church and as you continually focus on the pastoral – the mission of the Church – you will be able to incorporate technology in this work of God. Secondly, such a mutual conversation would have the same impact on those who seek to implement the apostolic mission – the mission of Jesus – always adapting it to our times and formulating it in terms of the “New Evangelization” which description Pope John Paul II uses to direct our efforts to reach contemporary men and women with the Gospel message.

Because our application of technology is intimately related to the mission of the Catholic Church, it necessarily includes an ethical dimension. We are all very familiar with the down side of technology, especially as it has polluted cyber space with pornography, has enabled many to take advantage of others, especially the young, for their own self-serving purposes, has created unhealthy addictions, has been intrusive in the privacy of others. We need to be aware of these abuses of technology, a truly wonderful human invention which has tremendous potential for good. DISC, it seems to me, as it moves into the 21st century, should include among its organizational leadership a committee which is very familiar with the ethical abuses, primarily those that affect our young and our families, and be prepared to guide them in technological remedies to deter those who wish to take advantage and exploit the weaker side of human nature.

Another ethical dimension which is incumbent upon the Church is spearheading efforts to assure that the poor both around the globe as well as those in our own dioceses are not further impoverished by virtue of the advances of technology. As you plan your own charitable outreach, I suggest that it might be most effective in terms of both personal and material resources if it could be directed to poorer communities so that the gap between rich and poor is closed rather than extended because of technological development. Again, such an attitude is derivative of one’s alignment with the mission of the Church and that of Jesus Christ who came to serve the least of his sisters and brothers.

The past 20 years have seen remarkable development in the field of technology. We have also witnessed changes in how the Catholic Church utilizes technology for purposes of communication as it fulfills its essential mission of evangelization. It is evident that information systems and technology are essential in support of the work of the Church. DISC has been in the forefront of crystallizing this mission and has great promise of being even more instrumental in the days ahead as it initiates dialogue on how best we might make the name of Jesus Christ known and loved in our own times. Especially are we concerned as we hand on this precious gift of faith to the millennial generation – those who are coming of age in the 21st century for whom technology is second nature.

Once again, we are well advised to recall the words of our Holy Father from the 2002 Message for the 36th World Communications Day on May 12, 2002, where he cited the important role of the Internet and by association the indispensable role of all technology as supportive in the mission of the Church:

It is clear, then that while the Internet can never replace that profound experience of God which only the living, liturgical, and sacramental life of the church can offer, it can certainly provide a unique supplement and support in both preparing for the encounter of Christ in community and sustaining the new believer in the journey of faith which then begins.

The Holy Father then clearly merged the mission of technology spoken in terms of the Internet, and thus the mission of DISC and indeed the mission of all other church technologically-based organizations with the mission of the Church and our ultimate purpose:

The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound, will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice is heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization.. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for where there is no room for Christ, there is no room for the human person.