VATICAN CITY, March 16 (RNS)--Pope John Paul II gave his blessing Friday to a plan by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to publish a study of ethical issues posed by the Internet.

The 80-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff said the document, "Ethics in Internet," would be "very timely, given the rapid spread of cyber-communications and the many moral questions involved."

"The church cannot be a mere spectator of the social results of technological advances, which have such decisive effects on people's lives," John Paul told council members attending a Vatican audience.

The council also is looking for a patron saint for the Internet, Monsignor Pierfranco Pastore, the council secretary, told Vatican Radio Thursday. He said the learned St. Isidore of Seville is a leading candidate.

Under its American president, Archbishop John P. Foley, former editor of Philadelphia's diocesan newspaper The Catholic Standard and Times, the council published studies of "Ethics in Advertising" in 1997 and "Ethics in Communications" last May.

"The problems and opportunities created by new technology, by the process of globalization, by deregularization and privatization of the media present new ethical and, indeed, spiritual challenges to those who work in social communications," the pope said.

Quoting from "Ethics in Communications," John Paul said, "These challenges will be met effectively by those who accept that `serving the human person, building up community grounded in solidarity and justice and love, and speaking the truth about human life and its final fulfillment in God were, are and will remain at the heart of ethics in the media.'"

Pastore, a former Vatican spokesman, said the choices of patron saints for the Internet and for cinema are under discussion at the current plenary meeting of council members. They would serve alongside St. Gabriel, patron of radio; St. Clare, patron of television; and St. Francis of Sales, patron of the press.

The council has asked dioceses and local churches to help it draw up a list of candidates to be submitted to the Vatican Secretariat of State, and many have chosen St. Isidore, Pastore said.

The Spanish saint, archbishop of Seville in the early seventh century, was considered the last of the fathers of the Latin church and was admired for his encyclopedic knowledge. The author of biographies and histories, he was best known for "The Etymologist," a study of grammar and rhetoric.

In Spain, the saint's name is closely associated with bullfighting. He is the patron saint of Madrid, and the celebration of his feast day on April 4 each year marks the start of a week of bullfights named for him.

Isidore was canonized in 1598 and made a doctor of the church in 1722.

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