Internet use can be ``a little like visiting the best theme park in the world and coming across a toxic waste dump,'' the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said.
The bishops, meeting in Milwaukee, said the Internet contains ``a sea of sexually explicit or gratuitously violent and hate-filled material, sometimes disguised under Web addresses that sound harmless and even helpful.''
Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., chairman of the committee that produced the media proposals, said ``our intent is not Internet avoidance, but Internet literacy.''
Church members will be asked to sign pledge cards annually for the next five years that commit them to rejecting media that ``produce immoral content and demean the dignity of the human person.''
Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland objected that the program smacked of the Legion of Decency days when Catholics stood at an annual Mass and vowed not to attend movies the bishops condemned.
``How sinful is it if I don't take the pledge?'' he asked.
The bishops also outlined a new system designed to encourage church-related media to seek the church's stamp of approval as being authentically Catholic.
The program, geared to broadcast, print and the Internet, is voluntary and the endorsements would come from the local bishop where a medium is based, Lynch said. The system would not apply to the secular media.
The bishops did not name any Catholic media they considered troublesome. But Bishop Anthony Bosco of Greensburg, Pa., said, ``I am sometimes more frightened by so-called Catholic media than I am by guns.''
Others noted the growing problem of Web sites labeled ``Catholic'' that actually transmit pornography or anti-Catholic propaganda.