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It’s Time for Another Vatican Website Rant

I have a confession to make. I’m a thief.

Way back in the mid-90’s I started a website called The Catholic Liturgical Library. This site still houses one of the largest collections of liturgical documents anywhere and in its day was a reference source for the US Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. Unfortunately, family and work have intervened and I no longer have hours to devote to scanning documents and answering questions. Still the site stands in all its stolen glory.

Yes, I took the parchment background from the Vatican website and made it my own. And it’s still there, though, in my defense, in a much less comprehensive way than when I first started.

Today I tried to go to the Vatican website to find out more about the Year of Faith that starts next month. I typed “vatican.va” in the search box and was told that the domain couldn’t be found. Years of rage about the Vatican website welled up and I had to write a post. Hopefully I won’t be getting a letter from the Pope about this.

Is it really to much to expect that a country can’t be bothered with making its webserver redirect vatican.va to www.vatican.va? I mean, what year is this anyway?

So after griping to myself about this annoyance, I loaded the correct url and got to the home page which hasn’t been updated in ever. Except for the addition of Latin and Chinese links. Why doesn’t the Vatican ever do seasonal changes to the home page? Maybe make the parchment purple or something? Or how about allowing you to pick your language and have the site remember you the next time you feel the need to shave off some purgatory time while wrestling with the site?

So I’m on the real home page where Superman Pope Benedict is there to greet me while looking off into the distance. They haven’t updated his image since he was elected. I’m here to look for information about the Year of Faith (which starts in four weeks) and what do I find?

Nothing says “The Catholic Church is with it” like parchment and image maps.

  • Links to:
    • The trip to Lebanon – this page actually has a link to the live news feed so that’s good.
    • The diplomatic corps – a PDF of every country and the diplomatic staff attached to it. In French.
    • The Church’s response to the abuse of minors – a very long page with links to the documents that have been written.
    • Widget vatican.va – Funny that they wouldn’t include “www” since “vatican.va” doesn’t actually work. Oh, and the widget page has no description of the widget, compatible platforms or a way to download it. You have to EMAIL Rome and ask for it.
    • A see sea of other links that don’t have anything to do with the Year of Faith
    • A link to a search page – why can’t you just search from here?

I guess I shouldn’t be so critical. The original design had graphics for the different sections that didn’t tell you what they were until you moused over them.

The other thing that isn’t helpful is that the site uses “corporate jargon”. Yes, I realize it’s a church, not a business, but the question needs to be asked, and then asked again:

Who is this website for?

If the website is for Catholics like me that know what “motu proprio” means and the difference between a constitution and an exhortation, it STILL fails because the site is still not usable.

If the website is designed for the average Catholic, or even more challenging, for the non-Catholic searcher, than the site gets a 1/10 but only because it exists.

I know that Brandon Vogt likes to use the Mormon church as an example of a church that gets the Internet. Here again they show the Catholic Church how it should be done.

They may not be Christian but they sure know how to evangelize.

Okay, look at this. Right at the top they have a chat link. How cool is that? You have a question about Mormonism? Hop on a chat with an official spokesman for the church. How about the drop down for church websites? There are three options here: information about Mormonism for visitors, study resources for Mormons and a section for the press. Wouldn’t it be great if the Church had an official source like this?

Instead, we have an official site that is full of “Catholic jargon” and no clear way to actually figure out what the Church teaches or where to go to learn about the Faith. I dare you. Try and use the Vatican website to learn what the Church teaches about the Holy Spirit.

So anyway, I was trying to find out information about the Year of Faith. The only way I could get any information was to click on the search icon and use the completely bland search page that just screams “professional” with its “Powered by Google Search Appliance” footer.

So the search result page looks like this:

Dude, you could have at least used a less 1990’s version of the Vatican coat of arms.

It took me three times looking at the results to notice that there were actual recommendations for what to do for the Year of Faith. The actual document is a completely isolated island without any noticeable link to the suggestions or any indication that there is an actual category on the Vatican website about the Year of Faith. I don’t think there actually is.

One final thing. The actual content pages of the site haven’t changed in layout since the site launched in the mid-90’s. That’s 20 years ago. The only difference is now they have a back arrow that takes you to the previous page and an up arrow that takes you back to the language portal.

I wish that I had the time and skill to devote to redoing the entire site. The Church deserves better than this and with over a billion Catholics in the world, someone has to be able to do better than this.

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