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HOLY CYBERSPACE

Sacred texts are racing through cyberspace at speeds that trouble the more gently paced Roman Catholic Church bureaucracy. When CRNET, a Virginia-based Catholic dial-up network, put the new Catholic catechism online this month, fearful editors had to yank it after a few hours. The reason: the U.S. Catholic Conference declared that the Vatican -- which, after all, holds the copyright on the catechism -- has to decide just when its texts should be electronically distributed. The issue will have to be deliberated by numerous committees and ultimately signed off on by the Vatican. "I don't think just anybody can put the catechism online," says the USCC's Father John Pollard, who stresses that the church will venture into the electronic age as it pleases.

Others are more eager to mix traditional religion with digital transmission: the Jewish orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch sect eagerly provides translations of theological works (gopher site: lubavitch.chabad. org/1) over the Net. Cyberspace's devoted may also download the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Koran and bits from the Dead Sea Scrolls. A Catholic University site offers a database with lyrics to the millennium's most popular -- and currently chart-topping -- Gregorian chants (http://gopher://vmsgopher.cua.edu)