Criticizing Our Bishops

In the February issue of homiletic & pastoral review Father Thomas Morrow wrote an article titled The Danger of Criticizing Bishops and Priests.  Although Father is a priest very respected by all who know him, he has been subjected to severe criticism for this article.  I have heard a number of his orthodox homilies, have often seen him leading prayer warriors outside of abortuaries, and I seek him out whenever I can for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He is a good priest.

His article begins by comparing today’s bishops and priests to those in the thirteenth century, many of whom led lazy and sinful lives.  He relates the story of the Waldensians who went to battle against the clergy, but went astray due to their lack of theological training.  He also relates the often-told story of St. Francis being asked to chastise a sinful priest. St. Francis instead went to the priest and knelt before him saying, “I don’t know whether these hands are stained as the other man says, …but I do know that even if they are, …in no way does this lessen the power and effectiveness of the Sacraments of God …” What St. Francis was able to accomplish in his lifetime by his example was astounding.  Father Morrow also gives an example of St. Catherine of Siena and her acknowledgement of the gifts a priest may bestow even though that priest be less than a perfect human being. Her letters to the bishops were respectful and humble, and she went on to accomplish many things.

Father cautioned us against taking delight in criticizing the bishops as this can lead to a dour and prideful Catholic.  He did not state that we should become silent, but instructed us to be charitable in pointing out the errors of the clergy. We should also pray for them. He points out that the more we criticize and complain, the more we bring down the morale of the Church and the gloomier we become.  He makes a good point here, but really, it is the wayward clergy who are causing the criticism in the first place.

Father was wrongly criticized for being naïve and unrealistic in his view of the damage our bishops and priests are doing to our church. In regard to today’s bishops and priests, he knew it is not just their sinfulness, but rather their teachings outside the faith and their complete lack of intestinal fortitude.  I believe this is the reason many of us feel we must defend the faith.  As the Bible says, it is better to be cast into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck than to harm a child.  Sometimes one wishes we could literally do just that to “Bishop So-and-so.”  The modernist and liberal clergy are causing much harm to our children as well as adults.

Most of us ‘defenders’ feel more akin to the good shepherd who cries for help when he sees the wolf than to an uncharitable judge.  In fact, Canon Law requires us (they) to proclaim the truth where it is lacking.  Canon 212 §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

In the May/June issue of This Rock magazine there is a similar article by Father Paul Scalia, titled, The Church Militant or the Church Belligerent?  In this article Father is not opposed to fighting for  the faith. He knows there must be a Church Militant, but he points out the danger is not in fighting, but in only fighting, and fighting in the wrong way.  He does not want the Church Militant to become separated from the principle of Charity and become the Church Belligerent. 

Father instructs us that we must guard against our objective being to prove we are correct rather than to bring people to Christ and establish the truth in their hearts.  He gives the example of a friend who confessed to him that in a discussion with someone about Eucharistic adoration, he felt he had taken the monstrance and smashed it over his head!

Secondly, he states we should not lose sight of the fact the Church is not a purely human institution.  With that approach we attack with only human means of reform. We should react to scandal within the Church with sorrow for the offense against our Lord and for its damage to souls, not as a rebuff to ourselves.

Thirdly, we should not try to make our preferences mandatory for others. We cannot fault others for doing what the Church permits, i.e., receiving communion in the hand, not wearing a mantilla, standing versus kneeling at times allowed, and saying certain words that have been changed in the liturgy.

Those who constantly challenge and criticize cannot be taught.  Constant criticism can lead to cynicism and we set ourselves up as our own personal Magisterium. 

Father Scalia tells us we do have to fight, but we must be willing to suffer. We cannot correct everything.  There are many transgressions within the Church, but none of them are of the Church.  We must suffer as we see the weeds among the wheat.  Even Jesus, when he used the whip to cleanse the temple, wept over Jerusalem.

Father also referred to the saints including Saint Catherine of Siena who spoke forcefully to the hierarchy and St. Francis de Sales who fought battles for the church, but we do not find in him any harshness.  St. Phillip Neri fought by adopting songs, jokes, picnics and even pranks to win his battles.  St. Thomas More who so staunchly opposed King Henry VIII’s usurpation of Church authority displayed a similar joy.  He even joked with his executioner at the scaffold.

Father gives many other examples, but he summarizes by stating we must fight with the sword and the trowel.  If we put down the sword, we will be overcome. If we put down the trowel we will leave nothing behind of value or of beauty – like the Spartans.  He quotes Song 6:10, “.. terrible as an army in battle array, teach us how to fight manfully and build joyfully.”

Both of these articles are worth a read and useful to meditate upon before we gird for battle against our miscreant clergy, but to battle we must go with charity and humility and with a big smile on our faces so we won't be dour Catholics.

Jim Fritz

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