Sunday, July 13, 2008

Finding Solid Catholic Websites....

Someone just asked me yesterday about a particular website and whether it was trustworthy. Periodically I like to post on how to find trustworthy Catholic websites. Personally, I like the criteria used at Catholic Culture which reviews sites as they are submitted by owners and readers. The review staff is headed up by Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, PhD and as of this post, 599 sites have been examined. These are periodically re-reviewed and their status modified accordingly. They use a simple red, yellow, green system, with green being the best for Catholics to consult and red worth avoiding, including link-wise on websites.

I'm placing here a number of FAQ's I get and my responses to them. They may be long, but are things I've often gone into with others in personal conversations.

After you read these FAQ's, see some sites that I'm pulling out of Catholic Culture's site review section - both green and red.

Q: Why should we care about web site reviews? Shouldn't we just judge for ourselves?

A: We can't judge a website based on feelings and most of us lack the education needed to adequately make those judgments. This says nothing of very poor catechesis the last 40 years, which has been largely heavy on "feelings" and low on substance. Candy may taste very good to children, but they will not grow strong, and will even whither away, if it is the the only thing they eat. Other things ought not be eaten at all, because they are harmful, but a child won't necessarily be able to distinguish good taste from good-tasting poison.

To adults, prime rib may taste very good, be high in protein, and filling, but if we eat it every day, our veins will clog. When we don't know if a particular food is high in fat, salt, carbs, or other things commonly limited in certain diets, we refer to books written by people with appropriate education levels to make that determination. Often times, these things are tested by experts and measured against certain criteria.

In a like manner, website content needs to be put to the test and the measure of that is Catholic teaching - things like the Catechism, doctrines, encyclicals, apostolic letters, the fathers and doctors of the Church, and other things. If a Catholic website promotes something like syncretism, then it teaches something contrary to the faith.

Q: What kinds of things to they use to make their judgment?

A: Catholic Culture has three primary measures: Fidelity or faithfulness to the Magisterium (the teaching arm of the Church), Resources (quantity and quality), and Useability (is it hard or easy to navigate).

In this blogpost I want to focus on the first, Fidelity, which Catholic Culture breaks down into four measures: Orthodoxy, Obedience, Fortitude, and Prudence. These will be difficult to understand if you don't have a good catechetical understanding of a number of things, especially the primacy of Peter and Magisterium. So, if you don't understand something, drop a question in the combox and I'll work on getting and answer. Here is how they explain these:

Orthodoxy: Fidelity to the Church as Teacher
The sine qua non of a Catholic web site is orthodoxy, or fidelity to the official teachings of the Church. Sites which reveal a pattern of dissent or which place error on an equal footing with Truth will have the lowest Fidelity grades.

Obedience: Fidelity to the Church as Ruler
The next most important factor is obedience, or fidelity to the Church's governing or disciplinary authority. Again, sites which refuse to accept the authority of the Holy See (including its liturgical authority) will have low Fidelity grades, even if their materials are, strictly speaking, orthodox.

Fortitude: Fidelity to the Church's Prophetic Mission
The third element in the Fidelity grade is Fortitude -- a site's willingness to advance or defend the Faith in the face of a hostile culture. Sites which are characterized by theological minimism, devotion to fashionable causes, or failure to state the Faith clearly in areas opposed by the modern world will have mediocre Catholic Culture grades even if they are, strictly speaking, both orthodox and obedient.

Prudence: Fidelity to the Church as Sanctifier
Finally, the prudence of a site must be taken into account. It is possible for a web site to devote itself to its subject matter in such a way that the mind of the Church in spiritual matters is not honored. One common example would be the lack of spiritual discretion shown by sites which uncritically promote alleged apparitions and locutions before the Church herself has reached a judgment. Such sites cannot win the highest Catholic Culture grade for Fidelity.
Be careful not to take offense to content which Catholic Culture labels as heretical. There are a good number of sites spreading error well deserving of this label.

Q: What about the education levels of those who run websites that Catholic Culture has deemed to be red, or harmful?

A: Bottom line is that you should look to those who teach what the Church teaches, not what someone wants it to teach. Imagine how many variations of interpretations can happen when everyone teaches their own version of "truth". That is how we ended up with over 30,000 protestant denominations, which splintered from Catholicism, then from each other. The state of Catholic colleges and universities has been under fire for decades.

As the Holy See found errors commonly being taught, she put forth the Catechism of the Catholic Church, various encyclicals, apostolic letters, and other communications to help theologians and the faithful comprehend those errors. While some theologians and colleges humbly submitted themselves to the corrections, others continued to propogate the errors, even refusing to bother with the mandatum. In response to that disobedience and infidelity, a slew of new Catholic colleges and universities has emerged. The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College profiles these, and existing institutions which followed Pope John Paul and ultimately, the Church.

2000 years of teaching experience of the Magisterium is a much greater credential than any one theologian.

A theologian does not represent the Church. Theorizing on matters of faith and morals is included in the job of a theologian. But, he can only present it to the Church and accept the outcome accordingly. Liberation theology is a good example. It presented some real challenges for the Church and Pope John Paul II during his pontificate. One quote in that linked article by Edward A. Lynch stood out:

Liberationists seek to change the object to which theology devotes its attention. They reject, with disdain, the notion that getting people to heaven is more important than getting them tolerable living conditions.

A quote worth pondering is that of St. Thomas Aquinas, given on his as he was anointed before death. The great Doctor of the Church exemplifies what all theologians should live, and what we as lay people, should expect of them:

Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.

Q: Why is it a problem if a site promotes apparitions and private revelations which have not gained full Church approval?

A: The Church has an arsenal of time-tested material. If we never watched another TV program or took other leisures, we could never finish all that she has to offer in spiritual material. Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so when the Church approves something, it remains good forever.

While a personal belief in certain private revelations and apparitions may be permitted, there is always a chance that it may never be approved, and could even be condemned if problems are found. Bayside is a good example of this, and I know people who got wrapped up in it, only to have it debunked while it was ongoing. There are other examples out there, as well, such as those included in this article on private revelations. Why not devote time and attention to apparitions like Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe or other approved apparitions? Or, private revelations like those of St. Faustina, or St. Bridget?

Furthermore, some of these websites that devote considerable time to promoting apparitions and private revelations which have not gained full Church approval actually engage in what I will call spiritual sensationalism. It read's like a tabloid. If you see many stories about Mary appearing on everything from toast to watermelon, along with every scandal imaginable, attacks on Church officials, find something more solid that will actually contribute to your spiritual life, like Zenit, or browsing something like The Real Presence website. What else but our fallen human nature would prompt us to waste time at sites like these?


I'm just going to provide some samples that are red, yellow, and green. Click the links to go and review why they are good or bad. Click on the "example" links, especially in those that are red.

Blogs are not reviewed to the best of my knowledge as they would need to add to their staff x10. Though, I do wish they would take the most highly trafficked blogs (daily hits into the thousands) and review them. Some so-called Catholic blogs have had a very troubling pattern of posts, while others are very good and deserve the spotlight.

See the website url's within the review at the top to visit them.




It's best to type in a site name or keyword into their search function, with it set to reviews. However, there is also a list of the top rated green and lowest rated red that you can breeze through. These lists do not include all red or all green.

I have actually found some sites that I need to re-evaluate as links. I do this several times yearly not only because new reviews are happening all the time, but because I have seen the status of some sites change. Some change because they improve, others change because they get worse.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!.