The papacy is getting wired, as Pope John Paul II prepares to publish an official document over the Internet for the first time – underlining the Catholic Church's commitment to modern forms of social communication, the Vatican said yesterday.

The Pope himself will press the "Send" button at a ceremony in the Vatican on Thursday, delivering copies of his apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in Oceania" (The Church in Oceania) by email to far-flung dioceses around the continent, a Vatican spokeswoman said.

The document summarizes the conclusions of a synod of bishops from Oceania who met in the Vatican in late 1998. Normally the Pope delivers such documents in person, making a personal visit to the continent and attending a signing ceremony there. On this occasion, the ailing 81-year-old pontiff has decided to skip the trip, sign the document at a ceremony in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, and let the Internet take care of delivery, the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman added: "The idea is not to save money on paper or postal costs, because paper versions of the document will be sent as well. Instead of delivering the document by hand, he will be giving it virtually over Internet. Oceania is a long way away and this saves him the journey."