Poland’s clergy face new rules on social media use after the Vatican approved a decree drafted by the country’s bishops.
The wide-ranging decree, promulgated March 30, says that priests’ social media accounts should clearly identify them as clerics through their profile photograph, account name, or description.
The decree, which comes into force April 20, extends not only to priests but also to others who are perceived to speak for the Church, including members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life. Some of its provisions also apply to lay people who hold Church positions.
“Although the presence of clergy, consecrated persons, and members of societies of apostolic life in the media, especially social media, is often their private activity, they are always seen as representatives of the Church,” the decree says.
“Their presence in the media space cannot be used to conduct activities against God, the Gospel, the unity of the Church community, their own superiors, or any other person.”
The Polish bishops’ conference said that the decree, which replaces norms issued in 2004, was necessary “due to the evolution of media in recent years, especially the development of social media.”
Poland’s bishops formally adopted the decree at a plenary meeting in Kamień Śląski on Oct. 11, 2022, following a year and a half of consultation and the submission of amendments to a draft by the Vatican. The Dicastery for Bishops granted the decree recognitio (formal recognition) March 4.
The 18-point document says that an ecclesiastical institution’s position can only be properly represented in the media by someone acting “under the express authority” of their superior.
Church representatives are “obliged to faithfully communicate Catholic doctrine,” as well as “to respect the instructions and decisions of the Polish bishops’ conference.”
“When speaking in the media, clergy, consecrated persons, and members of societies of apostolic life should remember that they are called to proclaim the teachings of Christ and not their own opinions and views, especially those that may cause confusion, scandal, introduce division or provoke negative emotions, and to ensure that the faith and morals of the faithful are not harmed,” the decree says.
It obliges priests and religious who establish links with newspapers, radio and television stations, and websites, or make repeated media appearances, to obtain their superiors’ consent. It adds that they should wear attire appropriate to their state of life when making media appearances.
The decree also says that after Masses are broadcast live, they should no longer be available in full to the public. But sections such as the homily may remain accessible.
Explaining the rule at a March 30 press conference in Warsaw, Fr. Rafał Kowalski said that the purpose of live-streamed Masses was “to connect a person who cannot be in the Church at the moment with the community of believers.”
“After the Eucharist, this community disperses, it is no longer there,” he said, according to the website Notes from Poland. “There were cases when the Holy Mass remained on the internet, which could cause confusion.”
The decree encourages superiors to ensure that its norms are enforced, imposing restrictions and sanctions where necessary.