This week, news broke that the Vatican is entering the metaverse and developing an NFT gallery dedicated to the Catholic Church. “The public-private partnership aims to extend the availability of the Vatican's heritage – manuscripts, masterpieces, and academic initiatives – to people, who otherwise won't be able to experience it,” a press release stated.
This was not surprising to the staff of Motherboard. We have spent weeks trying to arrange an interview with a representative of the Church about its no-longer-embargoed foray into the wide new world of Web3, and the representatives of the Vatican have been unwilling to move forward with an interview they initially pitched to us.
A spokesperson for Sensorium, a Switzerland-based metaverse company founded by successful Russian oligarch (and disastrous former Brooklyn Nets owner) Mikhail Prokhorov, initially reached out on April 19 to let us know that in “several days Vatican’s Humanity 2.0 will announce a partnership with Sensorium metaverse to develop the first-ever VR and NFT gallery. The goal is to make the Vatican's heritage more accessible for a wider audience worldwide.”
The spokesperson offered Motherboard additional information under embargo and—this is important—an exclusive interview with Father Philip Larrey, the chair of Humanity 2.0.
We were, of course, interested in the Catholic Church’s potential entrance into the world of metaverses and NFTs, but asked for clarification from the spokesperson in an emailed response that day:
“Hi [REDACTED], is Humanity 2.0 officially connected to the Vatican? As in, would it be actually fair to say ‘The Pope and Vatican are entering the metaverse and the world of NFTs?’”
The initial response was one of silence, so we followed up one day later:
To that, we received a prompt reply:
“Thanks for your interest! We are waiting on the feedback from the Vatican regarding your questions and will get back to you asap.”
Motherboard waited patiently for five days for an answer, only to receive more silence, leading to another follow-up email:
“Just checking in thanks.”
The spokesperson, who was wonderfully polite throughout, then sent an update, which, unfortunately, was that we were all waiting on official word of whether the Vatican was entering the metaverse:
“We are still waiting on the final details and release dates from the Vatican, sorry for the false start. Once we get the info, we will email you asap.”
Finally, two days after the last back and forth, and eight days since our initial inquiry, we received an answer, as well as an additional press release to not be released until May 2:
“Attached is the press-release (embargoed till May 2nd) and below is the answer to your question:
Humanity 2.0. is a Vatican-affiliated organization. So it would be correct to say that “the Vatican is entering the metaverse and the world of NFTs.
To give you more context, the Vatican plans to bring its heritage - manuscripts, masterpieces, and academic initiatives - into the metaverse with the goal to make them more accessible to people across the world (some who might never be able to visit the Vatican in person).
Please let me know if there is anything else needed from our side or if you would like to interview Father Philipp [sic].
Once again sorry for the long response, the approval process has been super bureaucratic and lengthy.”
This was a historic moment, yet one we could not yet reveal to the world. After all, it is not often that the Vatican enters a parallel digital world—something that raises weighty issues on which comment from an important Papal flack can only be welcome. (Is the metaverse covered by the same moral strictures as the universe from which it’s distinct?) Motherboard replied quickly, saying we would welcome the opportunity to speak with a representative of the initiative:
“Thanks so much for getting back to me. No problem on the delay. I'd love to speak with Father Philipp [sic].”
Suddenly, the situation appeared to be progressing quickly:
Spokesperson: “Would you prefer a written interview or a call? The first option will be quicker to arrange, but a call is also fine.”
Motherboard: “Call is preferable!”
Spokesperson: “Got it, we are now checking on Father's Phillip available time slots. Would that be possible for you to send us the approximate questions or topics you would like to discuss, so we can share them with Father Philipp [sic] in advance?”
Motherboard: “Let me know—as a rule I don't share questions ahead of interviews but if we can lock down a time I can jot down some general topics to hit—can't imagine anything would be particularly surprising.”
But then, we hit a roadblock. It ended up that Father Philip’s schedule had quickly become too full for an interview about the Vatican’s official entrance in the digital metaverse:
“We are very sorry, but father Philip just responded that he wouldn’t be available within 2 weeks. He initially made himself available, because the release was supposed to go live a week ago.
We once again apologize for all the inconvenience, we couldn’t anticipate some last-minute changes that ruined the schedule for this release. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with.”
This, it goes without saying, was heartbreaking to the Motherboard staff. Here we had the opportunity for a spoon-fed piece of legitimately historic news, and that possibility had suddenly been ripped away from us.
“Can you hold the release until he can do an interview?” Motherboard asked.
“We checked with Humanity 2.0 regarding your request, unfortunately, it's not possible to hold the release :( Is there anything else we can try doing instead?” the spokesperson replied.
“Happy to try something, but not just going to write up the release. Let me know!” Motherboard responded.
To which the spokesperson responded, “It's totally understandable. Let's keep in touch and once we move on with this project and Father Philip becomes available for an interview again, we can schedule you a call with him and demo you the first assets of the upcoming gallery (if you are still interested of course).”
“Meanwhile,” the spokesperson added, “if you like we can also offer you a demo of Sensorium smart AI-driven virtual beings (unrelated to the Vatican project). Please let me know if it's of interest.
“Once again apologies for the inconvenience and thanks for your understanding.”
But Motherboard didn’t want a demo of Sensorium smart AI-driven virtual beings (unrelated to the Vatican project). We wanted to talk about the Vatican’s entrance into the metaverse, thanks to former Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who in 2013, famously approved a blockbuster trade of three first-round picks and the rights to an additional pick swap in 2017, as well as Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, and Kris Joseph, in exchange for then-Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry.
On Wednesday, Motherboard reached out to the spokesperson once more, “Congrats on the news getting out. Let me know if there's ever a possibility of an interview.”
“Thank you,” the spokesperson replied. “As promised, as soon as Father Philip becomes available for the interview again, we will contact you among the first.”