Towards a Responsible Use of ICT in the Seminary Formation in Bigard Today



In his message for the 48th World Day of Social Communication, 2014, Pope Francis stated among other things: “The revolution taking place in communication media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.” This challenge has been made more urgent for us here in Bigard by two recent events. In the first place, our library is now digitalized. Bigard is among the first (if not the first) seminary in Nigeria  to achieve this feat. The digitalization of our library has launched us squarely into the “digital world.”

Second, between May 7 and 10 this year, the rectors of our seminaries held their annual workshop on the theme: ICT and Seminary Formation in Nigeria Today. At the end of the workshop, they resolved, among other things, that:

  1. Given the directives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) on the use of ICT, efforts should be geared towards regulating its use in the seminaries…
  2. It is important that maturity and caution should be emphasized on the use of ICT in our seminaries.
  3. There should be adequate and continuous formation of the seminarians on the positive and negative implications of the use of ICT.
  4. Seminaries should expedite actions towards digitalization of their libraries, so as to provide the enabling environments for seminarians to utilize the resources for integral formation…

It is in the light of the above that our colloquium this year centers on the theme: Towards a Responsible Use of ICT In The Seminary Formation In Bigard Today. ICT offers an unprecedented range of tools and opportunities for integral formation. At the same time, if not well handled, it could do harm to the formative process. We want to respond to these challenges by reflecting on the benefits as well as the challenges posed by the use of ICTS in our formation and how to make the best use of these tools for our all-round formation. In the process we intend to develop some preliminary guidelines for its use.

What is ICT?

ICT (Information and Communications Technology – or technologies) is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application, encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, satellite systems and so on, as well as the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance  learning. (Margret Rouse).

Today, our world has become “an interconnected globe humming with electronic transmissions a chattering planet nestled in the provident silence of space”  (Ethics in Internet #1). ICT now rules the world. The proliferation of these technologies is causing rapid transformation in all areas of life. It  is reshaping every dimension of life: the way we think, the way we relate with one another, the way we learn, the way we do business and even the way we perceive ourselves.

Using ICT is no longer optional. As Bishop Bernardin Mfumbusa of Kondua, Tanzania said recently, “To exist in the information age is to be online.” Today, everyone needs a basic understanding of ICT and how to make productive use of it. This is true for us priests and future priests if we are to participate and minister effectively in the modern technological society. The world has transited into the digital age and our ministry in the coming years will be to a digitally conscious people, to “natives of the digital culture.”

ICTs offer enormous benefits, but they should be seen and used as tools and not ends. In the words of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, they are “powerful tools for education and cultural enrichment, for commercial activity and political participation for intercultural dialogue and understanding…they also can serve the cause of religion. Yet this coin has another side. Media of communication that can be used for the good of persons and communities can be used to exploit, manipulate, dominate, and corrupt” (Ethics in Internet, #1). So they are not  neutral tools.

Our use of ICTs ought to be guided by a deep consciousness of who we are and what we are about. In Pastores Dabo Vobis – PDV, St. Pope John Paul II stated succinctly what the seminary is about: “The seminary can be seen as a place and a period in life. But it is above all an educational community in progress: It is a community established by the bishop to offer to those called by the Lord to serve   as apostles the possibility of reliving the experience of formation which our Lord provided for the Twelve. In fact, the Gospels present a prolonged and intimate sharing of life with Jesus as a necessary premise for the apostolic ministry… The seminary is, therefore, an educational ecclesial community, indeed a particular educating community…Inasmuch as it is an educating community,  the seminary and its entire life – in all its different expressions – is committed to formation, the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of future priests” (PDV, #60, 61).

In the light of the above, a fundamental question for us as we use ICTs is: “How  can we use these wonderful inventions of human ingenuity to enhance our human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation as we journey towards the priesthood and ultimately to our final destiny?” Without any doubt, they offer both advantages and disadvantages for priestly formation, depending on how we put them into use.  It is important, at this juncture, to highlight briefly the impacts of the ICTs on the four areas of our seminary formation.

1 .Intellectual Formation

 ICTs offer enormous benefits for intellectual formation. They  provide  students with tools they need to discover and own knowledge. There are a number of books, online help centers, expert’s views and other study oriented material on the internet that can make the learning process much easier as well as fun. Consequently, ICT has made research work easier than ever before. With the Internet, everything is available just a click away

While this unlimited availability of information can be a boon for intellectual formation, it also comes with serious challenges. The unlimited wealth of resources it provides means that students have an increased volume of information from a variety of sources to sort through. This can either help a student to expand his knowledge or lose his bearing. It can also make students too reliant on  technological devises and neglect developing other intellectual skills well enough. For example, students may rely too much on computers and calculators to do basic calculations instead of learning and understanding them themselves.

Furthermore, the nature of ICT knowledge poses a serious problem for rigorous intellectual formation. In a paper presented to Nigerian seminary rectors at their May, 2014 workshop titled, “Information Communication Technology (ICT) and the Formation of Seminarians,” Hyginus Aghaulor stated, “…being hypertexual  and multimedia based, the ICT revolution is changing our ways of thinking and learning, making them more lateral, associative and visual. In doing so it is probably enhancing our imagination and creativity, but it may also be threatening the dominance of the linear logical, abstract structures which has shaped the philosophical and critical thinking culture in the past 400 years of seminary training, and which are vital to any process of reasoning and criticism, thus enhancing superficiality and charlatanism.”

Again, because it is audiovisual and includes constantly improving speech and written text recognition, it renders much quicker and more efficient all  the functions that now require reading and writing, to an extent that might render reading and writing redundant in many cases. Hence, it is likely to diminish the importance of literacy in society. Similarly, it might encourage even further, the demise of rationality, which has always relied on literacy (cf. Aghaulor).

2.  Human Formation

ICTs’ benefit for human formation comes from their incredible ability to facilitate communication. The ability to communicate effectively is at the heart of interpersonal relationships. Modern information and communication technologies have created a “global village,” in which people can communicate with others across the world as if they were living next door.

Since it facilitates immediate connections among individuals and throughout the world, the ICT revolution is bound to extensively facilitate individuals’ ability to connect on the basis of similar interests, quests or problems and thus, will have an important empowering effect; in doing so, however, it  also  exponentially multiplies the number of relationships one has and renders each of them more superficial, fragmentary and temporary, thus perhaps contributing to increasing emotional flatness and to the saturation and disintegration of the self (cf. Aghaulor).

 3.    Pastoral Formation

 ICTs have also become important tools for both pastoral formation and for the apostolate. The internet has become for many priests and deacons a highly valued resource to prepare preaching activities. In our digital culture, priests and seminarians must be familiar with the various media of communication and how to use them in different contexts. We must go beyond the use of ICTs merely as social instruments to use them as pastoral tools. The web is today’s universe of information and interaction. The world has turned to the web for interaction. Many of our young people go to the web in search of meaning and value. ICTs will allow for the better evangelization of young people.

4.   Spiritual Formation

 ICTs are also a goldmine of resources for spiritual formation. Just as the Internet provides an unprecedented range of opportunities for learning in all areas, it does the same for spirituality. There are many websites devoted to spiritual formation and that also offer a wide range of spiritual activities such as conferences and retreats in multimedia format.

ICT Use Policy

A seminarian in training for a life of Christian discipleship should be accountable for how he uses information technology. A seminarian is accountable not only to God, but also to his bishop, the formators, and also those he will serve in the   future. A seminarian’s use of electronic communication, no matter the format or location, whether on a Seminary computer or on personally-owned equipment, should follow the following guidelines:

  1. Seminarians are ecclesial public persons, and their communications should exhibit the prudence, respect, and responsibility expected of public persons.
  2. Sharing of personal information should be limited, and not be posted simply for entertainment or to meet people at random.
  3. Caution and discretion should be exercised whenever seminarians provide personal information or are involved in electronic conversations, particularly when such information may be associated with, or used by, unknown persons, or when such communication could be interpreted as being representative of any entity other than oneself, e.g., Bigard Memorial Seminary, or one’s diocese.
  4. Use of the internet for academic purposes must follow the norms of honesty as described in the Seminary Catalogue. Students may not represent as their own work, any materials obtained on the Internet (such as term papers, articles, music, etc.) When Internet sources are used in research works, the author, publisher and web site must be identified.
  5. “With the exception of “Fair Use,” students may not copy, download or share any type of copyrighted materials (including music or films) without the owner’s permission. Unauthorized copying of software is illegal and may subject the copier to substantial civil and criminal penalties. Bigard Seminary assumes no responsibility for copyright or licensing violations by seminarians.

Seminarians have no expectation of privacy in their use of a privately owned computer while at school. Seminary reserves the right to search a student’s privately owned computer if there is reasonable suspicion that the student has violated Seminary policies, administrative procedures, school rules, or engaged in other misconduct while using the computer.

Positive Use

 All ICT use in the seminary must be consistent with Bigard Seminary’s  educational mission and formational goals, that is, the human,  spiritual, pastoral and intellectual formation for the Catholic priesthood. Seminarians must comply with all seminary rules and expectations concerning student conduct and communications when using ICT, even while using privately owned computers and other electronic devices in the seminary.

Negative Use

1. Illegal downloading of copyrighted materials (e.g., software, video, and music files) is strictly prohibited through the Internet, e-mail etc. Network sharing of illegally downloaded material is prohibited as well.

2. Viewing of pornography is strictly prohibited. Child pornography, which is illegal and considered a felony is subject to prosecution by law enforcement authorities.

3. The use of internet and e-mail systems for harassment, threats, hate speech  or any activity considered illegal, immoral or even inflammatory is strictly prohibited. Seminarians may not access, submit, post, publish, forward, download, scan or display defamatory, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, sexually suggestive, threatening, discriminatory, harassing, bullying and/or illegal materials or messages.

4. Creating, modifying, executing or retransmitting any computer program or instructions intended to bypass, subvert, or otherwise render ineffective the security or access control measures on any network or computer system without the permission of the owner.

5. Authorizing another person or organization to use Seminary network resources. A seminarian is responsible for all use of his account. He must take all reasonable precautions, including password maintenance and file protection measures, to prevent use of his account by unauthorized persons. He must not share his password with anyone else or provide access to Seminary network resources to unauthorized persons.

6. Communicating or using any password, personal identification number, credit card number or other personal or financial information without the permission of its owner.

7. Use of Seminary resources to gain unauthorized access to resources  of this or other institutions, organizations, or individuals.

8. Examination or collection of data from the network (e.g., a “network sniffer” program).

9. Use of false or misleading information for the purpose of obtaining access to unauthorized resources.

10. Accessing, altering, copying, moving, or removing information, proprietary software or other files (including programs, libraries, data and electronic mail) from any network system or files of other users without prior consent.

11. Use of any resource irresponsibly or in a manner that adversely affects the work of others. This includes intentionally, recklessly or negligently (1) damaging any system (e.g., by the introduction of any so-called “virus”, “worm”, “trojan-horse”, “adware”, “spyware”, “root-kit”, etc.), (2) damaging or violating the privacy of information not belonging to him, or (3) misusing or allowing misuse of system resources.

12. Use of Seminary resources for non-Seminary related activities that unduly increase network load (e.g., network games, peer-to-peer file sharing and spamming).

13. Using Seminary resources for one’s own commercial gain, or for other commercial purposes not officially approved by the Seminary.

14. Using Seminary resources to operate or support a non-Seminary related business.

15. Use of Seminary resources in a manner inconsistent with the Seminary’s contractual obligations to suppliers of those resources or with any published Seminary policy.

16. The Seminary is not responsible for information, including software, photographic images and musical recordings, published on or accessible through file sharing mechanisms, including personal web sites.  The Seminary does not monitor said sites. The individual or group creating or maintaining such file sharing resources is solely responsible for the content therein and may be held civilly and criminally liable for the materials made available.

17. All seminarians are expected to be familiar with and to abide by Seminary codes and policies, as well as local, state and federal laws relating to electronic media, copyrights, privacy, and security.

18. Social networking websites are form of communication with the outside world and are as such a form of external forum. Seminarians who hold accounts on social network sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc.) should be aware that our regulations for communication with outside world apply to them.

19 ALL USE OF PRIVATE MOBILE PHONES IN THE SEMINARY IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED. All other electronic devices may not be used in any manner that disrupts the educational process, is illegal, or violates seminary policies and/or seminary regulations. Seminarians are prohibited from using privately owned electronic devices, including but not limited to cellular telephones, Blackberries, iPhones, handheld computers,  MP3  players and electronic games during classes, study halls, and other school activities and at all times when silence is prescribed by seminary regulations. Seminarians must also obtain permission from any individual appearing in a photograph or video prior to posting on any social networking site or other Internet site such as Youtube.

If ICTs are to be correctly employed it is essential that all who use them know the principles of moral order and apply them faithfully. Its use for good purposes requires sound values and wise choices on the part of individuals. The goal of this policy is to promote and encourage responsible and respectful use of ICTs.

The use of ICT has a moral dimension. This means that as Catholic men striving to live a virtuous life, we must go beyond the minimum law and institutional policy to practice actively the virtues that are called for with use of ICT. The first of these is prudence, which helps one use his practical reason to discern the true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means in attaining that good. The next is temperance, which helps one to moderate the attractions of pleasures and provide a balanced use of created goods (cf. CCC #1806 & 1809). Chastity is also a key virtue in information technology use. With the excess of debased material available in the Internet, one must seek to be chaste with continual vigilance. To this end prudence and temperance are necessary in determining how and how often to make use of ICT.

Other virtues to be sought include: Charity, Patience, and Humility. Charity, particularly in correspondence and other communications, is necessary for one to be a preacher of the Gospel through his actions. Patience is also to be striven for especially when dealing with those whose views are contrary to the Catholic Church. Finally, humility is to be sought to help one treat the other people as persons and not as objects for his pleasure or amusement.

As men, we are subject to temptations towards lust, greed, and gluttony. We must recognize these temptations and passions and take measures to keep them in check. Discipline is called for, and by exercising the above virtues, an apprenticeship is begun in self-mastery, which is training in human freedom. Self-mastery includes learning to govern the passions.


 ICTs are powerful learning tools. However, with this power comes a great responsibility. They are truly a gift to humanity and we must endeavor to ensure that the benefits they offer are put to the service of our integral formation while we strive to avoid their negative impact. The Internet feeds fantasy and not reality. Internet abuse and addiction is a prevalent and growing reality within our society and sobering erosion of the Internet’s benefits. Pornography is the most cited abuse; others include, but are not limited to online gaming, shopping and gambling addictions.

The Internet feeds fantasy and not reality. It can easily become for some, a world onto itself where it is easy to lose track of time. That is why effective time management is essential for everyone. Managing your time profitably and productively and tending to your academic, spiritual, human and pastoral formation is of utmost importance.

The policies enunciated above are designed to assist you in striving to be accountable for your use of ICTs for your self-formation. They are not exhaustive and are subject to revision as technologies develops and new issues arise.

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