Why won't the pope let you rate him on YouTube?

There are 12 videos on the new papal YouTube channel. And you can't rate any of them or embed any of them, and there is no Chinese translation. How's that for evangelism?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

When I discovered that the Vatican had launched a channel on YouTube, a hosanna played around my lips.

It is surely time that the Catholic religion approached its current flock and potential new lambs in a way that rhymes with our socially networked century. No more of the wizened sermons by priests whose idea of being in touch with their parishes is not perhaps their parishioners' chosen method.

Now, I thought, we can expect tip-top, hip-hop homilies that will explain the church's positions and cast a twisty-bulb's eternal light through the darkness of our current times.

I expected a strong and moving defense of no sex before your wedding day. I hoped for a sound and interesting explanation of the concept of the Holy Trinity. I expected some great music, perhaps even a couple of celebrity endorsements. Tony Blair, perhaps. Or Bill Murray. Or Bruce Springsteen. Or even Dennis Kucinich. (They are all, according to my sources, Catholics.)

CNN had raised my hopes. It had quoted his Holiness as writing that "The proclamation of Christ in the world of new technologies requires a profound knowledge of this world, if the technologies are to serve our mission adequately...It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this 'digital continent.'"

So I watched all 12 videos, trusting that the content would instantly move young people to embed it into their MySpace pages and blogs.

"Are we going to be on YouTube?" "No, but did you see that video with the cat kissing the mouse?" CC Robert Paul Young

I dearly wish I was able to say that the videos were moving or persuasive. Instead, it all looks like a collection of news footage and highly institutional messaging cobbled together by a cardinal's nephew on a laptop in his Assisi garret. Adorned with English voice-overs from people too plummy even for the BBC.

I also dearly wish that those young people of the world who wanted to embed these videos into their MySpace pages actually could. For reasons best known to those almightier than anyone here, the embed function has been disabled. That doesn't exactly help any budding Evangelina Jolie.

Sometimes, stepping into a new media world, you have to present yourself in a way that actually speaks to that world. One that, at the very least, talks its language. Instead, the Vatican has chosen to bring its own slightly fusty rectitude to the Wild West of YouTube.

How must the Asian faithful feel to hear that the four languages in which the Channel has launched are English, Spanish, Italian, and German? Did the budget really allow for a German translator and not a Chinese one?

But perhaps the saddest part of it all is that if you want to take advantage of social networking, you have to appreciate its interactivity. You talk to people. They tell you what they think. Perhaps this doesn't sit so easily with the Vatican hierarchy.

One might have imagined that viewers of the Channel would at least be able to tell the Vatican what they think of each YouTube video. Well, not exactly.

The ratings feature has also been disabled. That is a shame, as the cardinals in charge might have followed the example of the Orthodox Church and its stunning, five-star-rated YouTube offering. Individual Catholics, too, have tried to use the medium in a way that has been appreciated.

I wonder who has advised the Vatican on its own slightly mystifying approach. Certainly not Leonardo DiCaprio. Perhaps it might be an idea to give him a call.