MICROSOFT Bids to Acquire Catholic Church

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- In a joint press conference in St. Peter's Square this
morning, MICROSOFT Corp. and the Vatican announced that the Redmond software
giant will acquire the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified
number of shares of MICROSOFT common stock. If the deal goes through, it
will be the first time a computer software company has acquired a major
world religion.

With the acquisition, Pope John Paul II will become the senior
vice-president of the combined company's new Religious Software Division,
while MICROSOFT senior vice-presidents Michael Maples and Steven Ballmer
will be invested in the College of Cardinals, said MICROSOFT Chairman Bill
Gates.

"We expect a lot of growth in the religious market in the next five to ten
years," said Gates. "The combined resources of MICROSOFT and the Catholic
Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a
broader range of people."

Through the MICROSOFT Network, the company's new on-line service, "we
will make the sacraments available on-line for the first time" and revive the
popular pre-Counter-Reformation practice of selling indulgences, said Gates.
"You can get Communion, confess your sins, receive absolution -- even
reduce your time in Purgatory -- all without leaving your home."

A new software application, MICROSOFT Church, will include a macro
language which you can program to download heavenly graces automatically
while you are away from your computer. An estimated 17,000 people attended
the announcement in St Peter's Square, watching on a 60-foot screen as
comedian Don Novello -- in character as Father Guido Sarducci -- hosted
the event, which was broadcast by satellite to 700 sites worldwide.
Pope John Paul II said little during the announcement. When Novello chided
Gates, "Now I guess you get to wear one of these pointy hats," the crowd
roared, but the pontiff's smile seemed strained.

The deal grants MICROSOFT exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and
the Vatican's prized art collection, which includes works by such masters as
Michelangelo and Da Vinci. But critics say MICROSOFT will face stiff
challenges if it attempts to limit competitors' access to these key
intellectual properties.

"The Jewish people invented the look and feel of the holy scriptures,"
said Rabbi David Gottschalk of Philadelphia. "You take the parting of the Red
Sea, we had that thousands of years before the Catholics came on the scene."

But others argue that the Catholic and Jewish faiths both draw on a common
Abrahamic heritage. "The Catholic Church has just been more successful in
marketing it to a larger audience," notes Notre Dame theologian Father
Kenneth Madigan. Over the last 2,000 years, the Catholic Church's market
share has increased dramatically, while Judaism, which was the first to
offer many of the concepts now touted by Christianity, lags behind.

Historically, the Church has a reputation as an aggressive competitor,
leading crusades to pressure people to upgrade to Catholicism, and entering
into exclusive licensing arrangements in various kingdoms whereby all
subjects were instilled with Catholicism, whether or not they planned to
use it. Today Christianity is available from several denominations, but the
Catholic version is still the most widely used.

The Church's mission is to reach "the four corners of the earth," echoing
MICROSOFT's vision of "a computer on every desktop and in every home".
Gates described MICROSOFT's long-term strategy to develop a scalable
religious architecture that will support all religions through emulation.
A single core religion will be offered with a choice of interfaces according
to the religion desired -- "One religion, a couple of different
implementations," said Gates.

The MICROSOFT move could spark a wave of mergers and acquisitions,
according to Herb Peters, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Baptist
Conference, as other churches scramble to strengthen their position in the
increasingly competitive religious market.

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