Vatican City, Nov. 20--(RNS) Pope John Paul II this week will become the firstRoman Catholic pontiff to issue an official church document via theInternet, the Vatican said Monday.

The Vatican said that in a ceremony in the Apostolic Palace onThursday (Nov. 22), John Paul will sign his message summing up the workof a meeting of the bishops of Oceania held at the Vatican in late 1998. "After signing the document, the Holy Father will transmit the text of the exhortation via Internet to all the dioceses of Oceania in English and French versions," the Vatican said.

The pope previously has traveled to the region concerned to issuehis Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation following a continental Synod ofBishops. The Vatican gave no explanation for the change in custom, but JohnPaul is 81 years old and suffers from a neurological disease that limitshis mobility. Although he has continued to travel and plans to visitBulgaria in May, his trips outside Italy have become shorter in recentyears. "In fact," the announcement said, "given the geographical dispersionand the expanse of the continent (of Oceania), electronic communicationhad an important role during all the synodal process from the initialpreparations."

The Vatican said it would be the first time in the history of thechurch that a pope has issued a pontifical document electronically. TheVatican has for several years posted documents on its Web site(, but only after distributing them in print.