Pretenses, False Pretenses and Spiritual Prudence
When we review web sites, we rate them for their fidelity, resources, and usability. The fidelity rating, as you can imagine, is the most controversial—and the most important. Let’s consider what constitutes “fidelity” in the CatholicCulture.org rating system before examining a new problem of spiritual prudence which we recently faced in our evaluation process.
For us, fidelity means fidelity to the “mind of the Church” and it consists of four elements:
- Orthodoxy: This means fidelity to the Church as teacher, or obedience to her Magisterium. It is the sine qua non of all the other elements.
- Obedience: This refers to fidelity to the Church as ruler, her authority over such things as the liturgy, the sacraments, devotional practices, priestly ministry, religious orders, and Church governance.
- Prudence: We think of this as fidelity to the Church as sanctifier. A web site will be downgraded if it handles some aspect of Catholic faith and life without the care and spiritual wisdom demanded by a true son or daughter of the Church, as exemplified by the consistent advice of proper authority over time, the example of the saints, and Catholic tradition.
- Fortitude: Here we are evaluating fidelity to the Church’s prophetic mission. It is insufficient for a Catholic web site to concern itself exclusively with such aspects of Catholic faith and life which are popular in the larger secular society while ignoring or underplaying those aspects which the larger culture rejects.
As I indicated above, the third item—prudence—deserves special mention just now. Most often we encounter a lack of prudence in our reviews when we deal with alleged apparitions which are being promoted before they have been investigated by the competent authority, or in spite of a negative decision, or without making clear the tentative nature of such claims. Faithful sons and daughters of the Church do not proceed in this way because of the danger of misleading souls, offering supposed nourishment from dubious spiritual sources that should be sought from the Church herself, and creating inordinate attachments to perceived spiritual experiences which can lead to a variety of errors.
Recently, however, we’ve encountered another serious violation of prudence in evaluating several web sites which claim either to be associated with an “Order” that lacks any formal ecclesiastical standing or which claim to provide deliverance from demons without proper ecclesiastical oversight, or both. In addition, the founder of this “Order” is a recently-convicted sex offender. Now I want to assure you that I am fully aware that the world is full of repentant sinners (ourselves included) who attempt to do good work for the Church. Moreover, any of us may live like a traditional hermit if we so choose, or even dress in traditional religious garb. And certainly we are all entitled to form associations among our fellow-Catholics to pursue spiritual aims.
So where is there a problem with prudence? Well, even if no deliberate deception is involved (which may be questionable), prudence demands that we not publicly advertise ourselves as members of an Order for the purpose of providing some apparently Catholic spiritual ministry without having sought both the scrutiny and the approval of the competent spiritual authority (usually the local bishop). Spiritual prudence further demands that we not set ourselves up as if we have some institutional Catholic status to assist people spiritually in an area closely related to our own publicly-known weaknesses, for this can only expose the Church to ridicule and ourselves to spiritual danger.
And just as we will not want to do these things if we are true and humble sons or daughters of the Church, we cannot do them and expect a good Fidelity rating from CatholicCulture.org. Of course it is only spiritually prudent for me to emphasize that our judgments do not purport to be official ecclesiastical judgments, nor are they infallible. While it is true that if our local bishop were to ask us to stop offering these ratings they would be gone tomorrow, this fact does not imply either his knowledge or his approval. They are simply ratings of how the external evidence associated with a web site appears to us to stack up against the commonly-accepted canons of sound Catholic judgment. Users should value these ratings only to the degree that their own experience suggests we at CatholicCulture.org do a good job of applying the mind of the Church to such questions.
But here is the point. For whatever it is worth, we don't care who you are, who you claim to be, how many people you have writing to us, or how great your reputation is for holiness. The sort of behavior I’ve just outlined will always—repeat, always—result in a RED (danger) rating from CatholicCulture.org.
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