Diocese of San Jose

This document is to provide guidance to pastoral ministers on the use of technology. They are merely guidelines and are not meant to be policy. The Diocese of San Jose has not yet formulated clear policy on some of the tools that are discussed below. The creation of policy is in process. However, there was a need to provide immediate guidance to all pastoral ministers in the Diocese of San Jose.

In the mean time, we encourage you to refer to the “Computer Usage Policy” that the Diocese of San Jose has set forth and to use this document as a guideline.

The “prudent principle” should always guide a pastoral minister. A pastoral minister should be aware of doing everything that is “prudently” possible to avoid problems. Common sense should be the guide in all circumstances.



The enclosed guidelines and recommendations are designed to aid pastoral ministers and parish personnel in determining appropriate boundaries in their use of technology within theirprofessional relationships with others.

Jesus walked among us. He listened. He spoke. He told stories and spoke in parables. He shared meals. He touched and was touched. He healed others with forgiveness, a touch, and/or a vocal command.

Jesus is the fullest experience of God being in relationship with us. We who desire to communicate God’s love for others and the invitation to be disciples of Jesus must recognize the value of real relationships.

“The bond between the Church’s ministers and the people they serve is inviolable. It is a relationship that is rooted in trust…” –Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, Bishop of San Jose

Those who minister and work in pastoral settings have long understood that our efforts are to be relational. “Effective ministry with adolescents (has always been) built on relationships. The central place of the Emmaus story in A Vision of Youth Ministry demonstrated the primacy of relationships and of discovering God within those relationships” (Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry)

Yet, as we fully enter into this new millennium, ministry and relationships are changing. Technological tools are already used in positive and dynamic ways in many pastoral settings.

“Using the media correctly and competently can lead to a genuine inculturation of the Gospel.” (The Church in America [Ecclesia in America], no. 72)

Our goal is to empower pastoral ministers in these changing times. This document provides clarity, guidance, and best practices in the use of technology.




Since the ministry environment is ever changing, it is helpful to provide a definition of key terms.

  • Pastoral Ministers: any person in ministry
  • Young Adults: Any person between the age of 18-39
  • Minors: Any person under the age of 18
  • Vulnerable Adult: A dependant adult
  • Mandated reporter: Anyone in the capacity of supervisory or disciplinary role over minors or vulnerable adults
  • Ethical/Permissive Reporter: Anyone who works in a pastoral setting with minors and vulnerable adults
  • Global Permission: parent/guardian authorization




Advances in technology have increased the opportunities for the church to communicate her message. For those who work with minors and vulnerable adults, the Internet and other forms of technology should be considered tools for communication and information. Technology, however, should not become an expedient and convenient means to evade the complicated and messy work of building human relationships. Technology at times falls short in truly enhancing the connectedness of human-to-human, face-to-face social interaction.

True community and relationship building within faith-based relationships follows the example of Jesus Christ – walking, talking, sharing meals, and praying face-to-face with others. Those who work on behalf of the Church should demand a more authentic relationship with those whom they serve. While technology might provide an open door to connect with individuals, deeper connection will best occur face-to-face. People may initiate online discussions that they are too embarrassed or timid to initiate in person.

They may bare their souls on the Internet because there’s no perceived consequence to what they say—there is assumed anonymity.

  • It is entirely possible to form inauthentic relationships on-line—almost like acting, taking on a persona, or playing a role.
  • It is difficult to judge peoples’ emotional or spiritual states only on the basis of what they say online. The emotive blog entry, or the depressed You-Tube video may or may not accurately reflect what a person is going through.

Those who minister and work in pastoral settings should be ever vigilant regarding healthy boundaries with anyone, but especially minors and vulnerable adults. Minors and vulnerable adults are not the peers of an adult serving within a ministry capacity. It is inappropriate for pastoral ministers to include them within their own social circle, on-line or otherwise. Ministers should not be accessible to the minors and vulnerable adults they serve on a constant on-call or regular social basis.

Primacy of Parents/Guardians

Parents/Guardians are the primary educators in faith and the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. Those who minister in pastoral settings must recognize the importance of the role of parents and guardians when dealing with all technological forms of communication with minors and vulnerable adults. As always, we seek a partnership with parents/guardians in the faith formation of their children.

We should be aware that many young people utilize technology, socially or otherwise, with the permission of their parents/guardian. Yet, parents/guardians remain wary regarding the safety of their children, particularly when using technology. It is essential that we work in partnership with parents/guardians to respect their authority while providing them with information regarding safe use of technology for their children.


Those who minister and work in pastoral settings must take great care to be consistent in representing the worth of their character on-line. Clear communication and respect for boundaries is needed at any level of contact with minors and vulnerable adults.

E-mails, text messages, blog postings or comments, YouTube videos are all public forums from which a permanent record can be obtained. As a representative of the Church, those who minister to minors and vulnerable adults should be diligent in avoiding situations, which might be the source of scandal for themselves or others. Furthermore, those we minister to must be educated on the public nature of such communication.


Any technological tools that we use as part of our ministry in the Diocese of San Jose, like websites, blogs, social network sites, and the like is the property of the Diocese of San Jose.




Anyone who establishes a ministry web presence should make a commitment to this vehicle of communication. Web pages, especially the index or main page(s), should be regularly updated. As with any ministry effort, there should be an intentional plan and set of goals regarding establishing and maintaining a web presence. This should be clearly communicated to the pastoral staff, volunteers, and those we minister to.

Great care should be used to protect people on a web page that is publicly accessible:

  • Peoples’ personal phone numbers or e-mail addresses should not be available.
  • Written permission is required from parents/guardian before posting photos or videos of minors or vulnerable adults.
  • When posting pictures or videos, use only the minor or vulnerable adults’ first name and only with parent/guardian prior written authorization.
  • At no point should a picture or video be used that might be considered embarrassing or unflattering.
  • We should always be mindful to protect the reputations of our church membership. If individuals are uncomfortable with a particular photo or video, it should be immediately removed from the website.
  • Regarding appropriate boundaries for the minister, care should also be taken to protect contact information (home address or phone, cell number, home e-mail address, etc.) of adults and youth.




Email and instant messaging allow for increased flexibility and immediacy in ministry communication. When appropriately combined with face-to-face communication, email and instant messaging can significantly enhance how we minister to others. The same boundary issues that must be respected in oral communication must be respected in written ones. Good judgment should always be used with text based communication tools. Parental consent needs to be obtained when communicating by email or instant messaging with minors and vulnerable adults.

  • Maintain a separate e-mail account for your professional communication and only use this account when communicating with youth or vulnerable adults.
  • Email, Instant Messaging, and Video Chatting communication should only be used with the matters that deal with one’s professional relationship. Communicate only about matters that address the business at hand of your ministry.
  • Care should be taken to maintain professionalism and appropriate boundaries in all communication.
  • There should be absolutely no personal exchanges.

Written communication can be misinterpreted.

  • Before sending an e-mail, ask yourself if someone reading it might “read something into it” that you didn’t intend.
  • Communicate in person whenever possible. If you think your e-mail might somehow be misunderstood, don’t send it.
  • If there is any potential for embarrassment or harm, reconsider sending the email or IM.
  • Be cautious when sending an e-mail, especially either in haste and/or when emotions are involved.

Always avoid any communication that might be construed as having inappropriate sexual or romantic overtones. Do not reply to any such e-mail from a minor or vulnerable adult; make a copy of such inappropriate communication and notify your supervisor.

Remember that there is no such thing as a private e-mail. All e-mails and IM’s can be logged, archived, and forwarded to other parties. Your communication can quickly become a public matter.

  • Unlike verbal communication, any form of written communication has a form of  permanence.
  • There should be no expectation of privacy.

At no time is one-on-one video chatting appropriate with minors or vulnerable adults.




The same standards that apply to email and instant messaging must be maintained when communication occurs in phone calls or via text messages. Appropriate and healthy boundaries when using texting or speaking with a youth or vulnerable adult is always required of pastoral ministers in the church. Frequent and ongoing communication with a selected individual suggests an inappropriate relationship.

• A minister should exercise good judgment at all times when communicating with people.

  • Dinner time, even if families don’t often respect dinner time as family time, should be respected.
  • While anyone we minister to might be on the phone or texting late into evening hours, ministers should set and communicate the timeframe when it is acceptable to make or receive non-emergency professional calls.

• Phone calls and text messages are for ministry purposes, so good judgment should be used when offering or publishing their home, personal cell phone numbers, or home address. Such a move, while might be intended to give the sense of pastoral availability, might not be best for maintaining the professional boundaries of the minister or the ministry.

Best Practices

• Set up a text message tree that is initiated by youth leaders so that your cell phone number remains unknown (see Twitter in section 7, or www.callingpost.com)




A social network service utilizes software to build online social networks for communities of people who share interests and activities. Most services are primarily web based and provide various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video or voice chat, file sharing, blogging, discussion groups, and so on.

A variety of social networking tools are being used by millions of people on a regular basis, making it seem that social networking has become a part of everyday life. The most popular sites for this activity have been www.facebook.com, www.myspace.com, and www.twitter.com.

Social networking has revolutionized the way we communicate and share information with one another. Therefore, it can also be a way to connect people with the church and the church’s activities with people.

On any social network site, personal opinions and discussions are often conducted. It is essential for pastoral ministers to remember that even on the World Wide Web, others may recognize them as representing the values of the Catholic Church.

  • If a professional staff minister wants to use social networking sites for ministry purposes, the Diocese of San Jose encourages that they create a professional social networking account that is separate from their personal account. This account should be seen as an official extension of the ministry organizations web presence and administrated by an adult and should be approved by the parish pastor or supervisor in which the social networking site will be used. Volunteers should not set up a special ministry account without the permission of the professional staff minister and/or the pastor.
  • There is a difference between initiating a ‘friend request’ and accepting one. Pastoral Ministers must not initiate and ‘seek’ friends on the professional social networking account. Those we minister to must request you as a friend first.

For ministers, using the Internet for accessing information about the people you minister to is a violation of their privacy, even if that information is publicly accessible.

Those working with minors under 18

• Please note the legal policies for Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter:

  • “You may not use the Facebook Service if you are under 13. If you are between the ages of 13 and 17, we strongly suggest that you seek parental consent to use the Facebook Service.” http://www.facebook.com/terms.php
  • “By using the MySpace Services, you represent and warrant that (a) all registration information you submit is truthful and accurate; (b) you will maintain the accuracy of such information; (c) you are 13 years of age or older; and (d) your use of the MySpace Services does not violate any applicable law or regulation. Your profile may be deleted and your Membership may be terminated without warning, if we believe that you are under 13 years of age, if we believe that you are under 18 years of age and you represent yourself as 18 or older, or if we believe you are over 18 and represent yourself as under 18.” http://www.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=misc.terms
  • “You must be 13 years or older to use this site.” http://twitter.com/terms

• One who ministers and works in pastoral settings with minors and vulnerable adults who has a “personal” social networking site, should neither advertise that site nor “friend” a minor or vulnerable adult to their personal site.

• If you become aware of information that is in the public domain of such a site, you are responsible for information that must be reported if a minor or vulnerable adult has been abused or is under threat of harm.

On-line Gaming

Finally, those who minister and work in pastoral settings with minors and vulnerable adults should take care in their involvement with on-line gaming. While, for many, this is a recreational alternative, it is also an opportunity for social networking. Pastoral ministers should take care of not divulging their on-line game identities so that appropriate boundaries are maintained.

Best Practices

The professional minister with permission from the pastor/supervisor should, if they choose to, create an online group on social networking sites that both young people and adult volunteers can join and interact without full access to one another’s profile.




The Web is no longer simply a repository of information—it has become a participatory platform for content creation and distribution. One method to develop and disseminate content is through a blog. The word “blog” is a shortening of the term Web log or Web-based log.

Those who minister and work in pastoral settings in the Diocese of San Jose may establish and publish through blogs for ministry-related purposed with the prior approval of their pastor or supervisor. As a representative of the Church, blogging should be conducted in a professional manner for ministry purposes.

As with any professional communication, ministry blogs should not be used:

  • For any personal communication or agenda.
  • To conduct or promote outside business activities.
  • To defame or cause defamation of the character of any individual, organization or institution.
  • To divulge any personal information about those being ministered to, or jeopardize their safety in any other way.

Personal blogs should not be advertised to minors or vulnerable adults.

Best Practices

Those whose blogs support ministry are encouraged to publish information including, but not limited to:

  • Fliers for upcoming activities, permission forms, calendar, and ministerial updates
  • Additional links and references for faith formation
  • Sacramental preparation information including: class times, checklists, sponsor resources, parent resources, etc.
  • Descriptions of projects, including procedures, expectations, and suggested parent involvement
  • Bible Studies and other spiritual links and prayer resources
  • Achievements of parishioners


Pastoral Guidelines in the Use of Technology

(PDF, 177k)