VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican is in line to control the new Internet address extension “.catholic” and decide who is allowed to use it.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit corporation that coordinates the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses around the world, announced the Vatican’s formal application June 13 in London.

The corporation is overseeing a huge expansion in the number of Internet extensions beyond the standard .com, .org., .edu and .gov. The extensions formally are known as generic top-level domains. The assignment of country-code top-level domains, like the Vatican’s own .va, will not be affected by the change.

Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told Catholic News Service that the Vatican’s application to control the top-level domain .catholic “is a recognition of how important the digital space is for the church.”

Controlling the top-level domain “will be a way to authenticate the Catholic presence online,” Msgr. Tighe said. The Vatican plans to allow “institutions and communities that have canonical recognition” to use the extension, “so people online — Catholics and non-Catholics — will know a site is authentically Catholic.”

The Vatican does not plan to allow individual bloggers or private Catholics to use “.catholic,” Msgr. Tighe said. Use of the domain would be limited to those with a formal canonical recognition: dioceses, parishes and other territorial church jurisdictions; religious orders and other canonically recognized communities; and Catholic institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals.

The Vatican filed four separate applications for new domain names, seeking to control “.catholic” and its equivalent in other languages using Latin letters, as well as the equivalent of the word “Catholic” in the Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese alphabets.

The fee for each application was $185,000, which Msgr. Tighe said “is a lot of money, but if you think of the money you have to spend to maintain a church structure,” and then consider how important the structure of the Catholic presence on the Internet is, it was a good investment.

Controlling the domain name will promote “a more cohesive and organized presence” of the church online, “so the recognized structure of the church can be mirrored in the digital space.”

In addition to the fee, the Vatican and other applicants for new generic top-level domains had to fill out complicated forms and must submit to background checks to ensure they are the best representative of the name they chose and to prove they have the financial, technical and institutional stability to run the domain, are not involved in criminal activity and have no history of “cyber-squatting” — registering a name more properly associated with someone else and trying to sell it at an inflated price.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has set up a process for resolving conflicting claims to the same or very similar names, although an auction of some extensions is possible. It said that of the 1,930 applications received, “there are 231 exact matches” with two or more applicants competing for the domain name.

The Vatican was the only applicant asking for .catholic.

When the corporation discussed the idea of expanding the number of generic top-level domains in 2009, the Vatican representative to the corporation’s governmental advisory committee, Msgr. Carlo Maria Polvani, expressed concern about “the possible perils” connected with religious domain names, including the risk of “competing claims” and “bitter disputes” between individuals or institutions claiming to represent, for example, Catholics or Muslims or Buddhists.

Msgr. Tighe said June 13 that the concerns, voiced “at a much earlier stage of the process,” were meant to warn the corporation of possible conflicts, particularly involving religious groups that do not have any clear or strong central leadership.

Once the corporation decided to move forward with the expansion, he said, “we decided we were best suited to apply for ‘catholic.'”

The applications for Latin alphabet domain names revealed June 13 included one request for “.christmas,” but no requests for “.christian.” Two applicants asked for “.church,” but no one asked for “.orthodox,” “.lutheran” or “.anglican.” Seven applicants asked for “.love,” one requested “.islam,” but no one requested “.jewish.”

At the London news conference announcing the applications, Rod Beckstrom, president of the Internet corporation, said no one had yet been granted the rights to any of the requested domain names.

The vetting process is ongoing and even entities that appear to have a right to the name and the ability to run the new domain are unlikely to have anything online before spring 2013, said Kurt Pritz, vice president. He also said the corporation is asking comments from the public for 60 days. In addition, he said, for the next seven months it will be accepting “formal objections” based on specific criteria such as possible brand or trademark infringement. But formal objections also can be submitted to demonstrate opposition to the applicant from a significant number of people who feel they are represented by the domain name.

The annual fee for the new generic top-level domains is $25,000, the corporation said.

When the Internet corporation began accepting applications in January for new Internet extensions, there were about two dozen approved generic top-level domains, including .info, which was added in 2000, and .travel, which was added in 2004.

The current expansion of top domains will be the largest in Internet history.

— By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service