VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has applied to control the new Internet address extension “.catholic” and thus 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 on 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 recognised 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 languages.

The fee for each application was US$185,000, (S$235,000) 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 organised presence” of the Church online, “so the recognised structure of the Church can be mirrored in the digital space”.

At the London news conference announcing the applications, Mr Kurt Pritz, vice president of the Internet corporation, said the application vetting process is ongoing. He added that entities that appear to have a right to the names and the ability to run new domains are unlikely to have anything online before spring 2013.  CNS