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by Theresa, Thursday, May 20, 2004, 06:41

Virtual Devils Curse Internet Church


A computer-generated image issued May 19, 2004 shows the cartoon double of Britain's Bishop of London, the Reverend Richard Chartres(L), witnessing the blessing of a member of the congregation by the minister(R) at the May 11, 2004 launch of the online Church of Fools.

Wed May 19,10:05 AM ET

By Jason Hopps


LONDON (Reuters) - The world's first Internet church has fallen victim to a plague of virtual demons, some of whom have been logging on as Satan and unleashing strings of expletives during sermons.

The "Church of Fools" was launched last week as a unique chance for Christians to worship interactively by choosing a "3D" animated character who could kneel, sing hymns, talk to others, hear a sermon, or shout "Hallelujah."

The site attracts between 5,000 and 10,000 worshippers daily and those who log on can also give money to a collection plate via mobile phone.

But the temptation to misbehave has proved too much for some.

"We have had problems from a small number of worshippers, which happens in any Internet chat room, and we are bothered about individual harassment, which we are taking seriously," said the site's deputy editor, Stephen Goddard.

"We're increasing security day by day to eliminate the disruptive behavior, such as the profanity, but we're determined to carry on...At least we're not preaching to the converted," he added.

The Church, sponsored by the Methodist Church but organized by the multi-denominational "Ship of Fools" project, said it had removed a "shout" function where people could speak to the whole congregation. Some were using it to hurl abuse or yell: "Satan loves you."

The pulpit, altar and lectern areas will be closed to the public after some worshippers walked their animated character into those areas during sermons.

But the strongest measure against the unruly will be the online equivalent of damnation: wardens will be able to smite the wicked by instantly logging them out of the church if they misbehave.


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