Many Catholics are now using the internet to spread heresies and innumerable distortions of true doctrine. Many Catholics, unfit to teach because they have not first learned, have exalted themselves as teachers of the Faith online. Many are now teaching doctrinal error, using the internet, as if these errors were magisterial teaching or sound theology. This problem occurs in blog posts and in their comments as well as in online discussion groups. Often the poster is anonymous and yet is teaching doctrinal error as if it were Church teaching or sound theology. The problem is at its worst on the subject of moral theology. For every type of sin, even intrinsically evil sins, there are some anonymous persons explaining that the Church supposedly permits the act, with some intention or in some circumstance.
The anonymity offered by the internet is part of the problem. A person can teach any heresy or doctrinal error online, under cover of anonymity, without consequences. A person teaching error under his real name online has to consider the effect that his words may have on his life. But anonymity can be used to say anything at all. You might think that a Catholic would realize that words said under anonymity are nevertheless known by God. But it seems that many Catholics have no fear of God. They fear the opinion of man, and so they teach doctrinal error under anonymity. If they feared neither God nor man, they would teach error openly. If they feared God, they would be careful not to teach anything but true doctrine and sound theology.
Examples of this problem:
At the New Theological Movement blog, a group of persons claim to be priests (with one deacon and one seminarian), but they post under cover of anonymity. They claim to be teaching the doctrines of the Church. Why does a priest need to be anonymous if he is only presenting the true Gospel? Is it because his Bishop would not approve? Why does a seminarian need to teach anonymously? It is because the director of his seminary would not approve? When priests teach error under anonymity, they are uncorrectable. No one can complain to their Bishop (if they are priests) or to their religious order (if they have one).
In all likelihood, the posters at the New Theological Movement are priests. But it is possible, on the internet, for someone to represent himself as a Roman Catholic priest, when he is not. A man might be a priest of a schismatic group, or he might be a priest whose faculties have been suspended because he decided to pursue marriage, or he might be a discredited priest, or he might not be a priest at all.
This problem of anonymous persons claiming online to be priests is like the ancient problem in the Church of itinerant preachers, who traveled continually from place to place, perhaps claiming to be priests, but without any way for the people to verify this claim. Many heresies in past centuries were spread in this manner. The Church has repeatedly attempted to correct this problem. But now the internet offers a new means of itinerant preaching.
At Catholic Answers discussion group, the moderators prudently do not allow anyone to claim to be a priest, unless he has approached the moderators and they have verified his identity. Otherwise, readers might rely on the claim of an anonymous person that he is a priest, rather than relying on a theological argument, and be led astray.
The problem of anonymous teachers of grave doctrinal error also occurs among persons not claiming to be priests, but falsely claiming to be teaching Catholic doctrine.
Catholic Answers discussion group is an example of this problem at its worst. Very many participants in the discussions there are not discussing or presenting opinion, they are teaching. They hide behind various pseudonyms, while claiming to teach and correct, as if with authority. They boldly claim that the Church teaches one thing or another, when in fact the Church teaches the opposite. They not only teach grave doctrinal error, they claim that these errors are Church teaching or sound theology. And if anyone presents a theological argument to the contrary, they unleash anger, malice, and all manner of false accusations and personal attacks. When speaking and acting under anonymity, some persons feel free to sin; apparently they think that their pseudonym has fooled God.
In the Scripture forum at Catholic Answers, whenever the topic of the inerrancy of the Bible is raised, several members will inevitably post arguments in favor of a long-condemned heresy: the claim that the Bible is only inerrant on matters of faith and morals. In fact, the Magisterium has repeatedly definitively taught that Sacred Scripture in infallible on all matters, and has often condemned the claim that inerrancy is restricted to matters of faith and morals. But these false teachers, under cover of anonymity, often succeed in convincing others of this heretical error.
The moral theology forum at Catholic Answers has perhaps the most doctrinal errors, asserted with the greatest frequency. Many new members approach that forum with sincere questions on grave moral issues, only to be told by several members that a particular grave sin is not a sin at all, and is even approved by the Church. This forum literally leads many persons into objective mortal sin in real life; it is not merely a theoretical discussion.
For example, often the question is asked: Can a married sexually-active woman use abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose? Inevitably several posters will quickly and anxiously claim that the Church teaches that the use of abortifacient contraception is not at all immoral for a medical purpose. This claim is a grave error, since the Magisterium teaches that contraception and abortion are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, and that intrinsically evil acts are never justified by purpose or circumstance. Yet these posters often succeed in convincing other members to use abortifacient contraception, resulting, in all probability, in multiple early abortions. The harm done by these false teachers is not merely theoretical.
In another example, whenever questions on marital sexual ethics are raised, numerous anonymous posters will claim that a married couple can commit all manner of unnatural sexual acts, as long as the husband completes the act within natural intercourse. This claim (which some call ‘the one rule’) has been cited as an example of ‘the pornification of marriage’ by theologian Alice von Hildebrand.
And the Magisterium of the Church has clearly and definitively taught that each and every sexual act in marriage must be unitive and procreative, and that unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil.
Yet the moral theology forum at Catholic Answers has for many years been justifying, promoting and approving of the use of unnatural sexual acts within marriage. The promotion and approval of intrinsically evil and gravely immoral acts is the mortal sin of formal cooperation. But these persons have no fear of God.
They make their claims under anonymity. For they fear the opinions of man. They would be ashamed if anyone in their real life found out that they approve of and openly encourage others to commit these pornographic acts within the holy Sacrament of Marriage. If anyone offers any form of disagreement with their promotion of unnatural sexual acts, that person is subject to false accusations, malice, personal attacks, and the like.
And there are many other doctrinal errors, on various subjects, promoted by anonymous persons at Catholic Answers discussion group. Many of these false anonymous teachers have thousands of posts over the course of many years. They have been effectively spreading many doctrinal errors, especially on morality, to many persons for a long time.
On the basic principles of ethics, one problem at Catholic Answers moral theology forum is that the teachings of Veritatis Splendor on the three fonts of morality and intrinsic evil are ignored and contradicted. The Magisterium definitively teaches that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, and are not justified by intention (purpose) or circumstances. But there seems to be no intrinsically evil act, however grave, that is not claimed to be approved by the Church in some circumstances or with some intentions.
Why would anyone rely on persons who teach under anonymity to teach them the Faith? Did Christ teach under cover of anonymity? Did the Apostles or Fathers or Doctors or Saints teach anonymously?
If these persons are truly teaching what the Church teaches, why are they ashamed to use their real names? Certainly, the use of anonymity is not intrinsically evil; it may be justified in some circumstances, with a good intention. But many Catholics are using anonymity to teach grave error, to make personal attacks on all who disagree, and as a result are doing grave harm to many souls. Some even promote certain forms of direct abortion, resulting in the actual deaths of some prenatals.
One reason why, in general, those who wish to teach Catholic doctrine should not be anonymous is the potential harm that can be caused by the teaching of grave doctrinal error. Another reason is the difficult that the Bishops would have in correcting persons who are teaching errors anonymously. And a third reason is that many sinners have a tendency to be on their worst behavior when acting under anonymity.
Some of these anonymous teachers of grave doctrinal error have undoubtedly brought about their own automatic excommunication, by committing the grave sin of formal heresy. But they continue to present themselves as if they were teachers of the Catholic Faith. May God rebuke them. For no one else knows who they are.