VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Internet can be a valuable tool for Catholic education and evangelization, and its proper use should be encouraged in seminaries as well as other church institutions, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“Internet, with its capacity to reach across distances and put people in contact, offers great possibilities for the church and her mission,” the pope said in an address to members of the Congregation for Catholic Education holding their plenary meeting at the Vatican Feb. 7-9.

The pope said the congregation was working on a document titled “Internet and Formation in Seminaries,” but did not say when it would be published.

When used with caution and discernment, the pope said, the Internet can be useful for future priests not only for studying, but for pastoral work in areas of evangelization, missionary action, catechism, educational projects and administration of various institutions.

The church will therefore need well-prepared teachers to keep the seminarians up to date on the “correct and positive” use of information technology, he said.

Addressing congregation members, the pope said the education and formation of future priests in seminaries is “one of the most urgent challenges” of the church today because of the culture of relativism dominant in contemporary society.

“For this reason, the service performed by so many formation institutions in the world that are inspired by the Christian vision of man and reality is so important today,” the pope said.

The seminary is one of the most important institutions of the church and requires a thorough program that takes into account the context in which they exist today, he said.

“Many times I have said that the seminary is a precious phase of life, in which the candidate for priesthood has the experience of being ‘a disciple of God,'” he said.

The pope has made recent references to the potential — and the dangers — offered by new media technology. Last month in a message for the upcoming World Communications Day he said, “this means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship.”

He encouraged the use of social media such as Facebook as a means of spreading the Christian message, but warned of the dangers of substituting human relationships with virtual contacts.