‘Vatican Wars’: Facebook Game Tackles Controversial Catholic Issues

Italians have an expression, “every death of a pope,” to describe rare events. And with Pope Benedict XVI in good health and scheduled to take three foreign trips in the next three months, few are talking about his replacement.

But as with almost everything else, the digital revolution has thrown papal successions into hyper-speed. Now, a momentous event that occurs maybe two or three times in a generation happens every Wednesday on Facebook.

Once a week in the game Vatican Wars, an impassioned struggle begins anew to choose a virtual pontiff who could change or reaffirm some of the Roman Catholic Church’s longest established — and most controversial — teachings.

The online papal electors are divided between the socially conservative “Templars” and the liberal “Crusaders.” Separating them are five hot-button issues: abortion, artificial birth control, same-sex marriage, women’s ordination and married priests.

According to the game’s rules, changing the church’s position on any of these practices (which are all forbidden in real life except, in limited cases, married priests) requires the election of 10 liberal popes in a row.

Since the first Facebook election in July, one liberal pope has been chosen, followed by three conservatives, and most recently another liberal.

The premise of Vatican Wars, whose name echoes the popular Facebook game Mafia Wars, perhaps not surprisingly has drawn fire from those who think it turns religion into a popularity contest.

“The game is based on a fundamental misunderstanding,” wrote Catholic Deacon Nick Donnelly on his blog, Protect the Pope. “A pope could not change the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, homosexuality, or the ordination of women. To change these doctrines would be to break with the apostolic faith.”

The game’s designer said the focus on social issues was not intended to shift attitudes one way or the other, but instead to maximize the game’s appeal. [more]


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