From a reader:
In your recent post, the examination of conscience listed a question about secret societies. I am theology teacher in a diocese where we have many unfaithful priests in positions of influence. A group of lay people, most with theology degrees (myself included), have decided to form a network of orthodox Catholics within the diocese, to keep a blog and produce podcasts on good, orthodox theology. We intend to invite local Catholics to join our group and we intend for this group to spread the faith in union with the bishop. However, because a lot of our members would be in a delicate position if certain elements in the diocese found out what we’re planning, we are currently keeping our group a private, secret one, even though once we find our place, we intend to become more open and visible. Again, we are not in any remote sense a schismatic group, nor are we opposing the authority of our bishop, we’re just trying to keep our network of orthodox catechists under the radar. Is this what the Church intended to condemn when she condemned secret societies? Should this group be disbanded? Are there canonical penalties?
No, this is not what the examen meant by “secret societies”. In the context of that examen “secret societies” refers mainly to Masonic groups and their spin-offs, the Carbonari, Odd-Fellows, and perhaps once upon a time some collegiate societies, such as Greek groups. I don’t know much about the Greek groups, frankly, but I believe in times past some had certain aspects that conformed to the description of “secret societies”.
For more and a a description, check the old Catholic Encyclopedia, which would explain “secret societies” in the sense intended in that particular examen.
Here is a definition which is still useful for an examination of conscience concerning groups to which Catholics may belong:
“The Catholic Church has declared that she considers those societies illicit and forbidden which (1) unite their members for the purpose of conspiring against the State or Church; (2) demand the observance of secrecy to such an extent that it must be maintained even before the rightful ecclesiastical authority; (3) exact an oath from their members or a promise of blind and absolute obedience; (4) make use of a ritual and ceremonies that constitute them sects.”
Even is some societies have openly benevolent aims, other aspects may make them off-limits for Catholics.
In any event, I don’t think that a group of people forming a group blog to support Catholic teaching and support legitimate ecclesiastical authority would fall into the old definition.