A Review of CatholicCulture.org Site Reviews

Over at CatholicCulture.org, under “Resources | Site Reviews”, they offer “qualified reviews of Catholic web sites.” This post is a review of their Site Review process and decisions.

Each site review has a brief description of the site, a link to the site, a rating, and some reasons for the rating. There are only three levels of rating:

Excellent – Green Light
Caution – Yellow Light
Danger – Red Light

Problems with CatholicCulture.org site reviews:

1. The author of each review is essentially anonymous. Their “review staff is led by Jeffrey A. Mirus, Ph.D.” But this phrasing suggests that other persons, unnamed, also do site reviews. Does Dr. Mirus do any of the site reviews himself? I suppose so, but this is never stated. The site only says that he leads the review staff. It is problematic when a website presents approval, condemnation, or warnings on matters pertaining to faith and morals, under cover of anonymity.

The review basically tells the reader do not trust websites A, B, and C, because they are dangerous to your faith. OK, thanks for the warning. Who are you? Oh, I see, you’re anonymous. Why should I trust your evaluation of those sites if you are anonymous? Well, Dr. Mirus leads our review staff. OK, what does that mean exactly? Does Jeffrey A. Mirus, Ph.D. review each site and certify to the reader that its review is accurate and shows good judgment? Essentially, we are being asked to trust the judgment of anonymous persons, whose review may or may not include the opinion of Dr. Mirus.

2. Another problem is found within CatholicCulture.org’s own explanation of their rating system. The system rightly gives a high place to “fidelity to the official teachings of the Church.” Good. But how do you define fidelity?

The teaching of the Magisterium distinguishes between the type and degree of assent required for infallible teachings (theological assent) and non-infallible teachings (religious assent). No such distinction is made in the site evaluations, and I can find no such distinction in the writings of Dr. Mirus. He uses the terms infallible and non-infallible, but he does not see any substantive or practical distinction between the assent required for each type of teaching. Both he and his site review staff allow no possibility whatsoever of licit dissent from non-infallible teaching.

To the contrary, the Magisterium teaches that theological dissent from non-infallible teaching can be licit. This is particularly true in the area of legitimate theological speculation and research. If there is a conflict between the conclusions of a theologian and a non-infallible teaching, this conflict does not necessarily require the responsible scholar to relinquish his opinion. This is true because non-infallible teachings may admit of development or call for clarification or revision.

And so there is an inherent contradiction in the CatholicCulture.org site reviews: they purport to judge fidelity to magisterial teaching, and yet they reject the magisterial teaching that some dissent from non-infallible teachings can be licit.

If I were to do a CatholicCulture.org style site review of CatholicCulture.org, I would have to point out this failure in the area of fidelity. CatholicCulture.org rejects the teaching of the Magisterium that some dissent is licit. In their site reviews, any perceived infidelity to the teachings of the Magisterium results in a condemnation of the website and its associated persons and organization. If we were to apply this standard to CatholicCulture.org itself, we would have to likewise condemn that website (“Danger – Red Light”), for rejecting the magisterial teaching that distinguishes between theological assent and religious assent, and permits licit dissent from some non-infallible teachings.

3. The next of the criteria in the rating for fidelity is “fidelity to the Church’s governing or disciplinary authority”, in other words, fidelity to the temporal authority of the Church.

The Church has two types of authority, which are Her two swords: the spiritual authority and the temporal authority. But a matter of discipline under the temporal authority is substantially different from a teaching under the spiritual authority (the Magisterium). The infallible teachings of the Magisterium are dogmas; dissent from a dogma is heresy. The non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium allow for the possibility of some limited dissent. But as for the rules and rulings of the temporal authority of the Church on matters of discipline, these are generally fallible. There is no magisterial teaching asserting that judgments of the prudential order by the temporal authority of the Church are infallible, or even non-infallible.

In fact, the Church does permit a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics, and this diversity of opinion may extend even to disagreement with the official judgment of the Pope about life and death matters, such as the application of capital punishment or the decision to wage war, in so far as these questions pertain to prudential judgment.

So Dr. Mirus and his site review staff, in their criteria for judging fidelity, first err by rejecting licit dissent from non-infallible teachings, and next err by rejecting licit disagreement with judgments of the prudential order by the temporal authority of the Church. And these two errors are compounded by the misunderstanding by Mirus and his site review staff concerning various other teachings of the Church.

For example, Dr. Mirus has openly and repeated rejected the teaching of the Magisterium that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, whether it is used in marriage or outside of marriage. He also rejects the teaching of the Magisterium that human acts, acts freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience are either good or evil. Instead, he claims that certain acts, such as using contraception outside of marriage are “morally neutral”. These errors — on using contraception and on the basic principles of ethics that all knowingly chosen acts are either good or evil — are of grave moral weight. These are serious doctrinal errors which, under the CatholicCulture.org site review standards would necessitate listing CatholicCulture.org itself as a Danger – Red Light. So you can see how absurd it is that CatholicCulture.org should judge other websites as to their fidelity.

Concerning the site review criteria, surely different weight should be given to disagreement with a rule or ruling of the Church than with a teaching? Not in the view of CatholicCulture.org. A site will garner a low “fidelity” rating, “even if their materials are, strictly speaking, orthodox.” Why? It is because Mirus and his staff treat infallible dogma, non-infallible teachings, and fallible judgments of the prudential order as having the same weight and the same obligation on the faithful — in contradiction to Church teaching.

4. The next of the criteria for the fidelity rating takes this problem even further: “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.” So even if a website is faithful to all infallible teachings, and all non-infallible teachings, and all matters of discipline, they will be termed “mediocre” in their fidelity if, in the estimation of the anonymous reviewers of CatholicCulture.org, if they do not speak out on the particular issues that the review staff consider most important, or if they focus on issues that the review staff consider less important. When did Christ or His Church teaching this definition of ‘fidelity’? NEVER.

5. The final criteria for the CatholicCulture.org version of ‘fidelity’ is even more problematic. Even if a website is faithful to all infallible teachings, and all non-infallible teachings, and all matters of discipline, and gives the proper emphasis desired by the CatholicCulture.org review staff, they still cannot be given the “Green Light” if they are supposedly imprudent and do not properly honor “the mind of the Church.”

What!?!? Are there no legitimate differences of opinion among the faithful. Is there no legitimate diversity in our prudential judgment? What is CatholicCulture.org talking about? The only example they give is “the lack of spiritual discretion shown by sites which uncritically promote alleged apparitions and locutions”. In practice, if your website links to a site pertaining to Medjugorje, or contains articles promoting Medjugorje, you cannot receive the “Green Light” rating indicating fidelity. Dr. Mirus has decided that Medjugorje is not a true private revelation, and so if you disagree, you are not faithful to “the mind of the Church”.

In practice, Dr. Mirus and his staff have confused their own minds with the mind of the Church. They have set themselves up as the judges of whether or not a website is faithful to the Church. And if you so much as disagree with their theological opinions on any topic, or if you support Medjugorje (which millions of Catholics support) your site is disqualified from being considered faithful to the Church. More than a few such points of disagreement places your site in the “Danger – Red Light” category, and is branded with “Fidelity: Danger!”, and a red arrow pointing downward

6. Some websites do deserve public condemnation. But these are given the same rating as Catholic websites expressing theological opinions with which CatholicCulture.org disagrees.

For example, “Catholics for a Free Choice” is given a negative rating (Red) for supporting abortion as if it were a right. No argument there. And the virulently anti-Catholic website Most Holy Family Monastery, which is a sedevacantist (heretical and schismatic) site, is rightly condemned as “virulently anti-Catholic”. But other websites, with far fewer and smaller theological problems, are given the same rating.

For example, the Catholic Biblical Association of America is given a red light “Fidelity: Danger!” with a red down arrow. The CBA is the organization entrusted by the Catholic Bishops with translating the Bible. They produced the original New American Bible (1970) and they also worked on later updates to that Bible. Some CBA members worked on the New American Bible Revised Edition (2010). Some U.S. Bishops — including my Bishop — are members of the CBA. And yet the site is given the same rating as a pro-abortion website, the same rating as a “virulently anti-Catholic” website from an heretical and schismatic group.

Why? Because the CBA does not “offer much in terms of true Catholic Biblical scholarship, only more of the same ‘pseudo’ intellectual mishmash that has been posing as scholarship since the sixties.” Is this a joke? The CBA produced the New American Bible translation. But supposedly they only offer ‘pseudo’ intellectual mishmash “posing as scholarship” since the sixties?!!?

Where is CatholicCulture.org’s translation of the Bible? They don’t have one. Where is their work with Sacred Scripture? I don’t find any Biblical scholarship on the CatholicCulture.org website. But they feel qualified to judge and condemn the CBA website for offering no true Biblical scholarship (supposedly). And yet, for years CatholicCulture.org has linked to the daily Scripture readings at the USCCB website, readings from the New American Bible and now from the NABRE. So that’s funny too.

7. This brings up yet another problem with these reviews. The site condemnations are written such that the organization and/or the persons involved with the site are also condemned. What starts as a purported review of a website, quickly turns into a judgment about whole organizations and about individual persons. Now if this condemnation were limited to organizations that promote grave immorality, like abortion, or to groups that are openly heretical and schismatic, there would be no problem. Why not condemn the group and their ideas?

But the review staff have decided that, on the excuse of reviewing a website, they can review and condemn entire Catholic organizations for differing with the anonymous review staff on various points of Catholic theology. They condemn the Catholic Biblical Association of America.

The review staff condemn Spring Hill College, “the oldest Catholic college in the Southeast, the third oldest Jesuit college and the fifth oldest Catholic college in the United States”. They don’t merely review and condemn the website, but the whole institution.

The review staff condemn Trinity University in Washington, D.C., “established by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1897 to provide women with a solid Catholic education.” Why? because material in the bookstore of the university is found unacceptable by the review staff, therefore, the whole university should be rejected. I kid you not. “A glance at the bookstore should be enough to convince Catholic parents to run in the opposite direction. The total lack of morality in the titles offered is sad and removes any question about the college’s catholicity.” The entire Catholic university is judged and condemned by anonymous review staff at CatholicCulture.org because of the contents of the bookstore. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently you can judge a Catholic University by its bookstore.

The review staff condemn The Aquinas Institute of Theology, “a graduate school of theology and ministry sponsored collaboratively by the Dominicans.”

Please understand, that these CatholicCulture.org site reviews of schools are not really reviews of websites. They are reviews and condemnations of the school itself. And what is the basis for this condemnation? A review of the course descriptions on the school website. The condemning reviewer did not attend the school, did not interview anyone at the school, has nothing positive to say about any of the teachers or courses at the school. A quick look at the school website finds something objectionable, and on that basis the entire Catholic educational institution is condemned. This type of rash judgment is sinful.

Not content with condemning entire schools, the review staff also condemns entire religious communities and entire religious orders — on the pretext of doing a site review.

“Website Review: Maryknoll” This review condemns the entire religious order and their publishing division: “Their political activism fits in very well with their espousal of liberation theology. While it is logical that Maryknoll would care about the material needs of those in the countries that they serve, they are forgetting what they were founded for. Instead of bringing the Truth of Christ to the world, they are politicizing the poor.” — and — “Orbis Books (Maryknoll’s publishing division) offers radical heterodox books.” This entry is not in fact a website review. How were the books published by the Maryknolls evaluated? By reading the description of each book on the website, not by reading the whole of any book.

Franciscan Radio, “home of Catholic audio featuring Saint of the Day, Sunday Soundbites, Lenten Radio Retreat, and American Catholic Radio” is condemned because of their association with St. Anthony Messenger Press. You see, the Franciscan Radio site has many links to the site of St. Anthony Messenger Press, therefore this entire undertaking by the Franciscans should be condemned. It is guilt by association.

AmericanCatholic.org, “home of the online editions of St. Anthony Messenger, Catholic Update, Millennium Monthly, Youth Update, Scripture From Scratch and other Catholic features”, “a service of St. Anthony Messenger Press and Franciscan Communications” is condemned. Why? There are articles and books by persons who are not teaching in accord with the views of CatholicCulture.org.

Franciscans International is condemned as an organization. Why? They are associated with the U.N. The site reviewer could not find any examples of Catholic social teaching on the FI website. They have links to websites with questionable material. But most importantly, Franciscans International “allies itself with very questionable organizations.” OK, I’ll bite. How do they ally themselves with “very questionable organizations”? By being “co-signers” on official U.N. documents with organizations like the Maryknoll Order and Pax Christi. There is no consideration given to the content of the document being signed. If A is a co-signer with B, and B deserves criticism or condemnation, then somehow A is also condemned. Again, it is guilt by association.

They list The National Black Catholic Congress as “Caution – Yellow Light” because of: “Links to a few non-Catholic sites that are consistent with its mission, Link to Disciples Now and National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, Book of the Month club selection book by Thomas Keating, Article in newsletter favorable to questionable writers.” Such a slight basis for claiming that an entire organization is not faithful to the Church. Meanwhile, CatholicCulture.org itself has much more substantial doctrinal errors, presented to the faithful as if these errors were magisterial teaching or sound theology. What would Jesus say:

{7:3} And how can you see the splinter in your brother’s eye, and not see the board in your own eye?
{7:4} Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter from your eye,’ while, behold, a board is in your own eye?
{7:5} Hypocrite, first remove the board from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Many different websites are condemned partly for having articles that speak in a positive way about Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, or merely linking to sites that have positive remarks about him. Because of some errors or perceived errors in the works of Teilhard de Chardin, CatholicCulture.org has decided to condemn his entire body of work and anyone who speaks well of him. Interestingly, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken well of Teilhard de Chardin, as has Cardinal Levada (prefect of the CDF). So, in principle, CatholicCulture.org would also have to condemn the Vatican.va website for such remarks, or condemn themselves for a lack of fidelity to the mind of the Church.

There are two types of errors here. First, there is the utter and complete condemnation of an entire person, body of work, or organization, for the least perceived error or disagreement with CatholicCulture.org opinions on any matter, even non-infallible teachings or judgments of the prudential order. And second, there is the condemnation of anyone who dares to say something positive, or to so much as provide web links to a site that says something positive, about any such condemned person, body of work, or organization.

There are many other examples. Entire organizations are condemned because an anonymous site reviewer skimmed their website, found something to criticize, and therefore condemned the entire organization. Even if the cited problematic content does deserve criticism, this does not justify the condemnation of the entire school, religious order, or organization.

8. But this problem of guilt by association is also rife throughout these reviews. The site reviews criticize and condemn websites for linking to other websites with objectionable content. Merely linking to a website about Medjugorje or to a website with theological opinions considered unfaithful or imprudent by the staff will get your site a bad rating. This type of reasoning is absurd. It is guilt by association, in some cases by association only with material that is supposedly imprudent (Medjugorje links) or material that contradicts the mere opinions and judgments of the anonymous review staff. Yet CatholicCulture.org can link to any site it likes; they are above their own rules.

9. “Strengths: None Reported”

Many of the reviews say: “Strengths: None Reported” when in fact a reviewed website has some good material on it. What happens is that the site reviewer skims a website looking for a few points of disagreement, and then condemns the entire site and its associated persons or organization, ignoring all good content on the website. This point shows that the site reviews are not true reviews. They in fact do not review all of the content on the website. They in fact ignore good content, if they also find content contrary to their own theological point of view. And they condemn entire organizations based on a cursory review of some of the material on their website.

In summary, the site review staff at CatholicCulture.org present themselves as the ultimate authority on what is and is not fidelity to the Church, even speaking as if they have the authority to condemn entire Catholic religious orders, schools, publishing houses, newspapers and magazines. The slightest perceived error results in a condemnation of the entire website, body of work, person, and organization. Many condemnations are based on guilt by association. And yet articles on the CatholicCulture.org website and the review criteria themselves contains grave doctrinal error.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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