Web Site Reviews: The Rating System
The Catholic Culture staff assigns grades to each web site it reviews. Individual grades are given in three distinct areas: Fidelity (to the Magisterium), Resources (Quality and Quantity), and Usability.
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The Fidelity grade is used by Catholic Culture to indicate the degree to which a web site represents sound, authentic Catholicism -- or fidelity to the mind of the Church. This is by far the most important grade given by Catholic Culture. If a site is not characterized by this fidelity, users deserve to be forewarned. The fidelity grade includes four elements:
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.
It is impossible to anticipate and list here every combination of these four elements along with a chart of their corresponding grades. Our general approach is indicated in the following table, but users are advised to refer to the actual text of the evaluations to learn the particular considerations which resulted in a given grade for a given site.
The grades that are given for Fidelity are:
- EXCELLENT (Green Light)
The site excels in all four Fidelity categories: orthodoxy, obedience, fortitude and prudence.
- CAUTION (Yellow Light)
The site's otherwise high quality is marred by lack of prudence, lack of fortitude or very minor and apparently inadvertent lapses in orthodoxy or obedience (such as an occasional weak link or a very small number of documentary resources which have not been carefully screened); or the site exhibits minor problems in several areas, or a significant minority of its resources reveal an unfortunate disregard of orthodoxy or obedience; or the site represents all so-called Catholic viewpoints equally, in effect placing error on the same footing as Truth.
- DANGER (Red Light)
The site tends toward disobedience to ecclesiastical authority, schism or heresy. There is repeated emphasis on views which contradict or undermine either the teachings of the Church or her disciplinary authority.
The value of a site's resources is probably the most important factor after Fidelity. The Resources grade measures how worthwhile a site is from this point of view. The highest grades go to sites which self-generate a substantial amount of useful Catholic material; but sites which devote themselves to external links can also earn high grades if their links are well-organized and well-presented enough to make the site an especially valuable resource gateway.
Grades for Resources are also defined fairly precisely, as follows:
The site self-generates a substantial number of valuable Catholic resources; or the site self-generates some significant valuable Catholic resources combined with a large number of well-organized and well-managed links which constitute a valuable resource gateway.
The site self-generates a small but significant number of valuable Catholic resources combined with significant links appropriate to its purpose; or the site doesn't self-generate many resources, but it presents a large number of well-managed and well-organized links which make it a valuable resource gateway.
The site self-generates only a small number of significant resources and its links do not constitute an important resource gateway.
The site has virtually no significant resources of any kind; or the site self-generates virtually no significant resources AND it uses framing or other techniques to present material from other sites as if it were its own.
The grade for Usability takes into account the following elements:
If the site has a stated Purpose, does it follow that purpose in a consistent and organized manner?
Is outdated materials cleaned out in a timely manner? Is time-sensitive material kept up-to-date? Are new materials or services added on a regular basis? Are broken links extremely rare?
Are the site's features and options clear to the user? Is easy to navigate, and is its structure clean and sensible?
Does the site have a visually-pleasing design that is well-suited to its purpose?