Can lay Catholic groups that dissent from the Vatican still be used as sources even though the subject matter does not seem to be controversial?

To put it in context, my response to this question used the National Catholic Reporter, which, according to Geremia, is not Catholic. Geremia is probably the only one who downvoted me, while two members upvoted me. (And I downvoted Geremia for merely copying and pasting information instead of summarizing and synthesizing.) I did a quick Google search on the National Catholic Reporter and found out that the organization ran into controversies with the Magisterium of the Church. Although the Christianity.SE is not supposed to distinguish which is Catholic or not, I think we should be able to distinguish which would be acceptable, relevant sources, like which one has higher credibility.

However, I think the article on the National Catholic Reporter is relevant to the question's context. My answer is based on a synthesis of the ideas mentioned in the original source. My second source directly addresses the question. Also, the subject matter is not really that controversial, so does it really matter if the Catholic organization that holds the article source promotes dissenting voices within the Roman Catholic Church instead of suppresses the heretics?

Related to: How should we consider Catholic academic journals?

Related to the question, what if a question asks for a Lutheran opinion on __________, and I just happen to find a Lutheran source from my academic database, can I just use that, even though other people may comment that the organization that hosts the source is not the right type of Lutheran or not orthodox Lutheran?

Moreover, how do I know which topic is controversial and which topic is non-controversial? Maybe everything that dissents from the authority of the church leaders will be considered controversial, heterodox, or heretic, so everything related to the dissenting organization should not be used? Although that method may work for a hierarchical organization like the Roman Catholic Church, it may not work for Protestants, because when Protestants disagree, they split into denominations, and there will be two or more denominations that dissent from each other. Who has authority over the other? Neither one, I suppose.

For example, there was one time in the Christianity.SE chatroom when I shared some information on Lutheranism, but Dan, another member here, said that was what the ELCA believes. What's ironic is that the source never mentions that that's what the ELCA believes; it just says that's what Lutherans believe. I'm confused. I mean, I could use references from ELCA and pose them as Lutheran, but do I have to write a little disclaimer at the top to make a note that the belief is associated with ELCA Lutheranism?

  • I don't know why my answer to that other Meta question got two downvotes :(
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Feb 2, 2015 at 0:18
  • @curiousdannii Not me. One is probably the other answerer.
    – Double U
    Feb 2, 2015 at 0:38

1 Answer 1


This is a perfect exercise in the principle of according to whom and why it is useful to clarify for whom your answer speaks.

I think your answer id about 99% good. The one thing I would have added there is precisely the qualification you put here. I'd phrase it along the lines of this:

Note The National Catholic Reporter sometimes takes a more liberal stance than the Pontiff...

See what you are doing here - you are adding more information! You are aware of for whom you speak. Yes, the National Catholic Reporter is Catholic, and is thus a fully legitimate answer. And, you are exposing differences between American Catholicism and the Vatican. This is useful information in helping people to understand.

I tend to answer a lot of "What do Christians believe" when I give a succint summary. I say who believes what, and scope it accordingly. Yes, it would probably be better in many cases if the questioner limited the scope, but if I can reasonably shed light on the issue, I do!

What I don't do is pretend that no disagreement exists. Clarify the distinction for the questioner and don't argue. Just say, 'Here is the spectrum of belief' and be done.

You've just made the Internet a better place.

  • 1
    I think the lesson is to know your sources instead of just using them!
    – Double U
    Feb 2, 2015 at 17:38

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