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Will Isidore Be Patron Saint of the Internet?

Pope John Paul II is to decide whether to canonize a 6th century intellectual, regarded as a person ahead of his time, report Luigi Sandri and Edmund Doogue of Ecumenical News International.

The Vatican is getting closer to naming St. 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.

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