Question in Short

In the Internet era, how does the Magisterium help both the faithful and the non-Catholic public to discern the authentic voice of the Catholic faith tradition?


Before the Internet

In the pre-Internet days much less information was available to the general public because of the inherent "filters" in place:

  • book / journals / magazine / newspaper channels need access to printing presses
  • radio and TV channels need to acquire frequency license from the local government
  • recorded audio and video tapes require a large capital to produce them
  • schools, conferences, seminars, etc. require "live" teachers / professors

Teaching authorities like the Catholic Church Magisterium then could approve or censor either the material or the teacher through means such as Imprimatur, Index of Prohibited books, Permission to teach which the public can then use to discern whether the views imparted through the teaching material or the person themselves represent accurately the view of the Catholic Church.

Internet Era

But now at the end of 2020, about 30 years into the Information Age, the general public can very easily find the above 4 categories of teaching medium just by Googling, either using a keyboard or by speaking to a virtual assistant ! Even traditional publishers also make available an alternate digital format through:

  • eBooks, PDFs, and Websites instead of printed materials
  • podcast, live streaming, Internet radio / TV, etc.
  • YouTube, Vimeo, Apple/Amazon/Google music/video, etc.
  • online courses/seminars/conferences, both recorded and live

In addition, there are new interactive medium that never existed before:

  • social media
  • collaborative editing: wikipedia, stackexchange, reddit, etc.
  • forums
  • blogs
  • comments on traditional media such as book reviews, news articles, etc.

Very informal history of how the Magisterium worked for 2,000 years

To a layman the Magisterium seems to spur into action by reacting when there is a "clear and present danger" to the apostolic tradition that She has the duty to defend. Examples:

  • In the pre-Constantine era: since it is already quite hard to survive, each bishop quashed each heresy as it became serious, sometimes meeting with other bishops in a church council for a more serious heresy

  • In Late Antique & Early Middle Ages: more polished apologetics and more learned church scholars at a bishop's disposal to meet the challenge, such as John Scottus Eriugena

  • In High Middle Ages: Very established institutions and an "army" of theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas ready to spend years to deal with heresies, but the mode is still reactionary.

  • Renaissance and Reformation: the new printing press is used by both sides to produce propaganda pamphlets like today's Twitter war, followed by the usual church council like Trent

  • Modern Pre-Internet: (described above)

  • Internet era: this is my question: does the Magisterium has a new way to preserve the integrity of the tradition?

Complete Question Statement

The main problem of the Internet era today is that there is too much information, sometimes conflicting, forcing the reader to discern which information / person is more "Catholic" than the other. The problem is clearly different in nature than the pre-Internet modern era described above. Therefore, another way to state the question:

What is the Magisterium's 1) general strategy and 2) general character (i.e. is it still reactionary?) to deal with the Information Age in fulfilling Her duty to protect the faithful and the general public from misinformation of the Catholic Faith?

The questions below are sample concerns that should be addressed by the general strategy:

  1. While waiting for an encyclical / church document to address an issue, is there a hierarchy of teachers that we can use for guidance?

  2. These speakers are authorized by a particular diocese. When there is a gray area or where there are many answers about a topic like deutero-canon books, which one to choose? For example, this seems to be one of the best answers out there: 15 Myths, Mistakes, and Mispresentations about the Deuterocanon by Gary Michuta, one of those speakers. Is it safe to quote (at least in Wiki / C.SE) that's his ebook is the Catholic position for now?

  3. Some websites is more faithful than others, like the Catholic Answers website, having their answers sometimes stamped with Nihil Obstat.

  4. Some professing Catholic and well-published Thomist professor like Ed Feser is self-disciplined to disclose when his opinion is at variance with the Magisterium. Otherwise, is he to be trusted?

  5. How do bishops issue Nihil Obstat today? Is it still being done and applied to the new media?

  6. Some Catholic apologists are more quoted by others.

  7. Some Catholic books have prefaces by bishops, implying the book is safe to represent a Catholic position.

  8. Does the Vatican / a Diocese still issue teaching license?

  • Please ask one question at a time. Open more questions for your specific questions #1-8.
    – Geremia
    Mar 27, 2020 at 3:44
  • 2
    @Geremia My question was meant to be Magisterium's 1) general strategy and 2) general character (i.e. is it still reactionary?), in an age that clearly requires a different strategy than the pre-Internet modern era. It's not necessary to answer all 8 questions; only that the general strategy should be roughly adequate to address at least a majority of the concerns exhibited by the 8 questions. Mar 27, 2020 at 4:07
  • @GratefulDisciple Thanks for inviting me to answer such a good question, but unfortunately, I know not of any modern time discussions about this. It seems to me that the Magisterium will in future issue a document regarding this because it is desperately needed.
    – Thom
    May 1, 2020 at 15:57
  • @Thom Yes. Unlike Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, Catholic church relies more heavily on the central teaching authority. May 1, 2020 at 17:16
  • @GratefulDisciple Your question was aimed at what the magisterium does in order to protect the faithful from misinformation about the Catholic faith. Maybe it would be interesting to consider what each of the faithful needs to do in order to avoid misinformation about the Catholic faith.
    – Thom
    May 1, 2020 at 17:39

2 Answers 2


There has been talk of this:

  1. The Synod hopes that in the Church appropriate official bodies for digital culture and evangelization are established at appropriate levels, which, with the indispensable contribution of young people, promote ecclesial action and reflection in this environment. Among their functions, in addition to promoting the exchange and dissemination of good practices at a personal and community level, and to develop adequate tools for digital education and evangelization, could also a [sic] manage certification systems of Catholic sites, to counter the spread of fake news regarding the Church, and looking for ways to persuade public authorities to promote increasingly stringent policies and tools for the protection of minors on the web.

—Synod of Bishops, XVth Ordinary General Assembly final document “The Young, Faith, and Vocational Discernment”, Oct. 27, 2018, n. 146 (bold added)
transl.: “Liberal Censorship: Synod asks Vatican to create ‘Vatican Certification’ of Acceptable Websites”, Rorate Caeli, Oct. 30, 2018
transcript.: “Vatican Synod proposes ‘Certification Systems’ for Web Sites to counter ‘Fake News’”, Novus Ordo Watch, Oct. 31, 2018

  • 2
    It's a good start. How about general observation on how the Magisterium has acted in the past 30 years in using existing mechanism as well as in piloting new mechanism in light of the new / updated medium facilitated by the Internet? Mar 27, 2020 at 4:14

To address the overarching concerns expressed here, the Church does continue her practice of approving materials for the faithful to learn from even to this very day. Bishops usually have appointed a priest within their diocese, the censor deputatus, to screen material petitioning for a Nihil Obstat before granting it. After a Nihil Obstat is granted, the bishop grants his official stamp of approval with the imprimatur. In general, the faithful should be able to trust any worked printed with a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, which you can find on or near the title page. The process is explained on a high level here.

In addition, some diocese require teachers to be certified through a diocesan office. For instance, the Archdiocese of Detroit does this. And the USCCB has an office to assist with this sort of thing. This would be more up to the individual preferences of a particular bishop.

Lastly, you can trust material printed by organizations run by bishops, or which operate with their bishop's approval, since the bishops represent the teaching authority of the Church. Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire ministry is an example of this. Since Bishop Barron is a Bishop, faithful Catholics can follow his guidance and the guidance of the ministry he directly oversees (as an extension of his office) because he has been charged to shepherd the flock as a Bishop.

Edit: I wanted to add a caveat to this. Often today we do have irresponsible bishops and even bishops who flirt with heresy. There's not much more that the faithful can do about this than they could in olden days. Study the official documents of the Church, which the internet makes freely available to all via the Vatican website. If a bishop is preaching something directly contrary to these, don't listen to him. Otherwise, follow what he teaches.

  • You can trust any material approved by a bishop...some bishops can't be trusted? Dec 5, 2021 at 1:04
  • @MikeBorden that's always been the case.
    – jaredad7
    Dec 6, 2021 at 14:23

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