The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - September 26

Is making out with your girlfriend a sin? Will remarried divorced Catholics ever be allowed to take Communion? Is the devil real? These are typical questions a priest might hear any time from his parishioners. But Father Gianfranco Falgari and a group of associates are fielding these queries in a venue that's more virtual than spiritual the Internet.

Crossing theology with cyberspace, Priests On-Line answers parishioners' inquietudes with downloads of advice and Catholic guidance. The Web site appears to be quite popular: In an era of declining church attendance, the site's traffic has nearly tripled since it was launched a few years ago, its managers say.

"We do not want to substitute personal contact," Falgari said. "But this Web site does allow us to be available to those who have difficulty turning to a priest in the flesh. People may be able to say things that they would not dare say to a priest in person."

Visitors to the Italian-language www.pretionline.it can post a message for all to read or send a message directly to one of more than 800 priests who have signed up to participate. There is no public chat room. Only the priests can respond and it's always in private. Nor does the Web site allow confessions, Falgari said, because the confession is considered a sacrament and must be conducted in person and in absolute confidentiality.

Otherwise, just about any topic is fair game. Falgari said the dominant themes include "emotional and sexual aspects" of marriage, questions about why so much suffering exists in the world, and how and why the church chooses its policies.