…by the fuzziness of the application of Canon 216 (the one about Catholic thingies/organizations/blogs/internet undertakings/[insert organization here] not calling themselves “Catholic” without permission from the bish.
I think this is a classic case where the bureaucratic side of Catholicism simply hasn’t caught up with reality, so the normal canon law caveats about “in most cases” is applied with a lot of generosity.
Here’s the deal: The Latin conception of law is to make rules about everything and then list all the possible exceptions and leave still more leeway for ordinary human variety if that doesn’t cover all the bases. Basic watchword: The law was made for man, not man for the law.
In contrast, the normal Anglo-American conception of law is “Make as few rules as possible and then enforce it, even if it’s absolutely stupid to do so.” Basic watchword: “Lex Rex”. Law is king.
This, by the way, explains both Italian drivers and the bizarre phenomenon of Americans who stop at stop signs in the middle of the Mojave desert when there is nobody around for a hundred miles. The Latin conception of law is articulated well in Pirates of the Caribbean: “It’s not really a code. More like a guideline.” The Anglo conception is “It’s not a good idea. It’s the law!”
Canon law is emphatically Latin. We Americans are emphatically Anglo. So we encounter this loosey goosey application of law and are driven mad trying to obey every jot and tittle when the Church often takes a much more casual approach. Canon law is there to maintain a semblance of order in the vast herd of cats that is the Catholic Church. Now and then it gets updated (last time was in 1983, long before the Internet) to reflect reality. Canon 216 simply did not envision the possibility of 50 million people starting blogs called “Catholic Cats and Wacky Videos”. Dioceses simply do not have the capacity to police stuff like that. And, in any case, it is deeply counter to the Catholic spirit to even *try* to police stuff like that. The Church is fond of eccentrics, free associations among members, and people who wear their faith on their sleeve. So there is almost no interest in running around trying to tell people to stop calling themselves Catholic. What then prompts a diocese to (on very rare occasions) enforce canon 216? Basically, if you make a big and loud enough spectacle of yourself saying things that make the Church look bad or ridiculous. Bob Sungenis achieved this with his anti-semitic rants (and to his credit, semi-obeyed his bishop) by changing “Catholic Apologetics International to Bellarmine Theological Forum, the better to continue with his anti-semitic rants and quack science. The National Catholic Reporter and Catholics for a Free Choice have likewise achieved this dubious form of notice, but have simply ignored the command of their bishop to stop using “Catholic” in their names. Not too shocking since we already know their reputation of contempt for the Magisterium when it inconveniences them.
It’s one thing when your average Catholic, who knows nothing of canon law, sets up her “Catholicism and Crocheting” blog to chat about how to knit and embroider nice sayings from the Bible and Mother Teresa. It’s quite another when a self-anointed “Real Catholic” is giving scandal by publicly defying his bishop.