For Catholics looking to learn more about their faith, the Internet is like a massive library that's always expanding.
That's the good news. The bad new is, you have to watch where you wander in these virtual aisles, because a number of their shelves have been tainted: They contain cleverly disguised collections of misinformation that can pollute the mind and disorient the heart.
For example, if you surf over to CatholicAction.org, the first thing you will see is a wonderful picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Below it are a few paragraphs about the organization. “Catholic Action was inaugurated in the reign of His Holiness Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) for the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the Church's hierarchy,” the text begins. “In short, EVERY Catholic through thought, prayer and work is called upon to labour for the glory of God and the universal acceptance of the teachings of His Church, so that Christ the King will reign in each soul, in every family, in society and the world at large.”
Wow — sounds like a great Web site. Right? Wrong. The subsequent paragraphs go on to say: “There are NO Sacramental and sanctifying graces flowing from the Novus Ordo liturgy.”
According to the individual or group behind this Web site, the only true Mass is the Tridentine Mass. Well-informed Catholics will recognize this doctrine as a variation of that promulgated by the late, excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X. But the unsuspecting Catholic could easily be swayed to reject the New Mass by the evident piety of the presentation and the passion with which “Catholic Action” calls him or her to a deeper life in Christ.
When studying or learning about the Catholic faith on the Internet, it is a good idea to begin with the Vatican site at vatican.va, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at nccbuscc.org and the Catechism of the Catholic Church at scborromeo.org/ccc.htm. Once you are grounded in legitimate Church teaching, you will then be able to recognize those sites that stray from it.
The main point is that it's easy enough to steer well clear of Web sites that openly attack Church teaching in faith or morals — but it can be challenging to spot the sites that dress up like orthodoxy while promoting heretical or schismatic doctrines.
For this reason, it is important to find out who is behind any given Web site presented as Catholic. Beware of any site that does not provide names, along with contact information such as e-mail addresses. Lack of this kind of disclosure isn't a guarantee of funny business — some good sites don't provide names, either — but it's often one telltale feature of sites with dubious fidelity to the Pope and the magisterium.
If the people behind the site do show themselves, you have something to work with. Are they a group known for their fidelity to the Church? Do they identify their diocese and bishop, and give signs of respecting lawful Church authority? Don't be fooled by a pleasant-sounding name.
“Catholics for a Free Choice” at catholicsforchoice.org sounds interesting, even if “choice” has become something of a loaded word these days. And indeed, this group, on its site, claims to be working in the Catholic social-justice tradition. They say they are “engaged in research, policy analysis, education and advocacy on issues of gender equality and reproductive health.”
Read on and you will find that the founders were “motivated by the simple conviction that the bishops did not represent the Catholic people on reproductive rights issues, including abortion.” Red light! In fact, this group is anything but authentically Catholic — they are one of the prime agitators trying to have the Holy See removed from the list of non-governmental organizations with a voice at the United Nations.
Perhaps the most dangerous sites of all are those that mix much good material with some erroneous or outdated material. As the saying goes: “What's more deadly — a beaker of arsenic or a bottle of fine wine into which a few drops of arsenic have been placed?” The point is, you'll spit out the pure poison, but you'll savor the tainted wine without ever being the wiser until it's too late. I can think of one Catholic publisher whose Web site offers many excellent Catholic books — and a few which attack the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo Mass.
Sometimes, of course, such mistakes are inadvertent. For example, on my own Web site, I relayed a eucharistic miracle which I had read about in a letter to the editor of a Catholic newspaper. It involved one of Pope John Paul II's visits to our country. After the information had been on my site for a while, the author of the letter informed me that her sources had turned out to be mistaken. This reminded me of a basic principle that must guide both journalism and Webmastering: You always needs to check your sources before reporting claims and allegations as facts.
In August, the NCCB came out with a document titled “Protocol for Catholic Media Programming and Media Outlets.” One paragraph states: “Web sites which intend to function as Catholic media outlets should voluntarily seek ecclesiastical approbation by submitting a written application to the diocesan bishop of the place where the production headquarters of the outlet are located. … “Without this approbation, outlets may not claim that programming is ‘Catholic.’”
In my limited research with a few dioceses, nobody has yet “voluntarily” asked for such approbation for a Web site. Perhaps at least some Catholic Internet media outlets should do this. For the full text of this document go to nccbuscc.org/comm/protocol.htm.
For this month's recommended sites, I would like to emphasize some online library collections. For a more complete list, see my online directory of libraries at monksofadoration.org/libraryx.html.
► The Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College (which is Protestant) offers much of The Early Church Fathers, a 38-volume collection of writings from the first 800 years of the Church. It's at ccel.org/fathers2.
► The Catholic Liturgical Library at catholicliturgy.com has a wealth of information. If you have questions on the liturgy, or just want to expand your knowledge about it, this is a great place to start your journey.
► EWTN has an impressive and useful collection of articles in both audio and text at ewtn.-com/new_library/index.htm.
► The Mary Page at udayton.edu/mary is maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton in Ohio. The Marians who run it, by the way, lay claim to the world's largest collection of printed information on Mary.
► How could I write about libraries and not recommend the world-famous Vatican Library? It's online at vatican.va/library_archives/vat_library/index.htm. It's well worth a visit, especially for those planning an actual (not just virtual) trip to Rome.
► Finally, the Library of Congress has a fascinating online exhibit titled “Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship.” If you find this archaeological treasure as fascinating as I do, you'll definitely want to surf over t o loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/toc.-html.
Brother John Raymond is the author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001 and Web master of www.monksofadoration.org.