In slightly less than four years, the number and quality of Catholic Web sites has grown from slightly more than a handful to arguably the largest grouping of religious sites on the Web.
Today major Catholic sites number in the hundreds with new sites springing up on a daily basis. There are so many in fact that NCR's Tom C. Fox recently published book listing 500 of the most important Catholic sites on the Internet is in serious need of revision and expansion.
Of course the quality of Catholic sites run the gambit from sites with no original content; to sites which focus on providing analysis and visibility to those issues and materials which before the advent of the World Wide Web might only have been available to scholars or professional theologians
Herein lies both the promise and the difficulty. Quality Catholic sites such as the Association for Rights of Catholic In The Church (ARCC); Woodstock Theological Institute;the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) or Fred Halsted's Radical Catholicism often seriously differ in not only which information they chose to report but in their analysis of that information
We at SFBay Catholic believe that this is healthy and to be expected. The Catholic world is not a monolith, it never has been and it never will be. It is dishonest to pretend that it is. Certainly there are elements within the Church on both the right and the left who are disturbed by the diversity present in Catholicism. They are disturbed that this diversity is sometimes visible for everyone to see. They are disturbed that Catholics would seriously argue about the language of the liturgy; the closing of parish churches; the number of priests and religious. Topics covering most areas of sexual morality: birth control, equal rights for women,; civil rights and protections for gays produce almost a visceral reaction among to to many Catholic sites. Topics or even the acknowledgment of liberation theology; limits of infallibility; cause Catholic reactionary sites to react with anger, condemnation and denouncements. At too many Catholic Web sites, such misgivings are often manifested by ``filtering" or ``distortion"
Filtering happens when sites refuse to acknowledge or list major sites of Catholic information where the editorial or theological content might contain viewpoints and arguments which differ from what they consider to be ``orthodox".
This is often apparent on many ultraconservative sites but it can also be sometimes seen at the renewal and reform sites as well. Filtering should not be confused with focus. A site which is focused but following responsible journalistic practices ( and Web sites are indeed a form of journalism ) might legitimately not list Catholic sources which are not relevant to their field or specialty. Focus is necessary for every site but we believe that a Catholic site which seeks to cover certain issues should always provide links or arguments which responsibly oppose its own position.
Ignorance and goodwill often has the unwelcome potential
of producing evil!
Distortion, is an even greater problem when conflicting schools of Catholic opinion refer to each other. Issues of conscience are most often complicated and Catholic sites at any point on the spectrum do themselves and their readers a disservice if they attempt to present opposing Catholic theological views as unworthy of consideration or holding positions which the other group does not ascribe to. Without mentioning names, both `filtering' and `distortion' are serious problems which plague many Catholic sites and some very large `quality' sites on the web today.
The web is starting to mature, certainly it has a lot of growing-up to do and this will take time; however, it might not be too early for Catholic Web masters and Administrators to review their our own site policies and attempt to put their houses in order.
Yours In Christ,
Hugh O'Regan, Web Administrator