Photo by Art Rachen on Unsplash

Church needs to be in crypto conversation

By  Gina Christian, OSV News
  • January 11, 2023

The recent collapse of a major cryptocurrency exchange proves the Catholic Church must “begin a conversation” on such technologies, a Catholic author and entrepreneur told OSV News.

“The whole question of blockchain, cryptocurrency, Web 3.0 and NFT needs to be on our radar,” said Matthew Pinto, founder of Ascension Press (now Ascension) and the nonprofit finance firm The Genesis Group, both based in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Pinto said the potential of emerging financial technologies eludes many Catholics, which is why he wants to “bring this question to the Church.”

In November 2022, Pinto hosted a two-day Catholic Crypto Conference in suburban Philadelphia, an event that drew some 300 in-person and online attendees. More than 25 experts from a variety of disciplines shared their perspectives on the relationship between technology, finance, faith and pastoral ministry.

Among the conference speakers were Fr. Andrew Pinsent, research director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University, and Andrew Abela, founding dean of the Busch School of Business and a professor of marketing at The Catholic University of America.

The conference coincided with the high-profile implosion of FTX, at one point the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency exchange with a valuation of $32 billion. The timing of the scandal was actually “providential” for conference participants since it “proved the need” for the gathering, Pinto said.

“Catholics, like any other consumers, will ask questions such as ‘What is this? What does it mean to me?’ ” he said. “And what better place to address that … than with fellow Catholics who want to explore these issues?”

Yet getting Catholics to reflect on how their faith can help shape such technologies can be akin to “pushing boulders up a hill,” said Pinto. “It’s like me asking someone in 1995 if the Church would be intrigued by the idea of what the Internet might deliver. (Many) would have looked askance in the beginning.”

Now, Web 3.0 seeks to bypass banks and other institutions, enabling users to transact digital assets without third-party involvement. The concept rests on blockchain, the technology that underpins cryptocurrency, which relies on encryption algorithms (which securely encode data), functioning as both a form of payment and a virtual accounting system.

Satoshi Nakamoto (whose actual identity remains unknown) introduced blockchain in a 2008 white paper proposing Bitcoin as a “peer-to-peer electronic cash system.” With transactions recorded in a ledger across networked computers, timestamps create a “proof-of-work” that forms a record of transactions and transmits them through the network.

Blockchain also forms the basis of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, whose unique, non-replicable values can serve as a means of authenticating tangible assets, such as artwork, real estate — and even sacramental records, said Pinto.

“Any time the Church has a record or a piece of data that is immutable, then the idea of locking that on a blockchain becomes important,” he said.

Pinto believes Catholics are slowly becoming more proactive in their response to new technologies.

“The Church needs to be here now, rather than eight to 10 years from now,” said Pinto.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.