“We invite you to criticize our institutions without reserve. One is not insulted by being informed of something amiss, but rather gets an opportunity for amendment, if the information is taken in good part, without resentment.” – Plato, Laws, Bk. 1, 635a
In his important work entitled The Devastated Vineyard, Dr. Dietrich von
Hildebrand examines three false responses to the devastation within the Catholic
Church while emphasizing that, "the most dangerous one would be to imagine that
there is no devastation of the vineyard of the Lord" and that "our task as
laymen is simply to adhere with complete loyalty to whatever our bishop says."
Dr. von Hildebrand warns that, "the basis of this attitude is a false idea of
loyalty to the hierarchy." (p. 246).
The Church's pastoral authority
is not totalitarian. Her authority is subordinate to the theological virtues of
faith and love, both of which redeem and perfect persons instead of merely
subjecting them to a particular ideology. There are some who believe that the
laity should never criticize a bishop because "it is impossible for a lay person
to know all that goes into his decision-making process" and because "it just
seems backwards to mistrust a man who authoritatively speaks in the name of
But a bishop only teaches authoritatively if he offers a
teaching which conforms to that of the Church's Magisterium. And while the laity
may not always be privy to all the factors that go into a bishop's
decision-making process, they still are able to see the results of a particular
decision and "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred
pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church."
(Canon 212). Dr. Germain Grisez reminds us, "That the Church is a communion of
faith and love does not mean popes and other bishops may ignore the conditions
necessary for the just use of authority in any human community. Like any
community's leaders, the Church's pastoral leaders can make wise decisions only
if they deliberate well. The other members of the community should contribute to
their deliberation by responsibly expressing their opinions on matters
concerning the Church's good."
Pope John Paul II said that there is room
in the Church for constructive criticism. Sometimes such criticism must be
directed toward a bishop. Especially when he sets himself against the Church's
teaching or fails to protect the faithful entrusted to his care.
today, including sadly many Catholics, equate criticism with condemnation or a lack of charity. Dr.
Montague Brown explains the difference between the two nicely: “Criticism is the
honest appraisal of the value of ideas or actions…Pursued in the right spirit,
it is a positive undertaking whose purpose is to gain an accurate understanding
for the sake of growing in wisdom and virtue….Condemnation goes beyond
evaluation of an idea or action to a declaration of the worthlessness of a human
being. It is never fair and is a wholly negative judgment, referring only to
weaknesses. Because condemnation is unreasonable, it serves no purpose in our
quest for wisdom and virtue.” (The One-Minute Philosopher, pp.
This past Sunday, I took exception to a Catholic priest, Father Peter Naranjo of Saint Mary's Church in Orange, Massachusetts, holding up Boston Red Sox celebrity David "Big Papi" Ortiz as a "good Catholic" and a "hero." See here. This post was forwarded by a reader of this Blog to Father Michael Wood of the Springfield, Massachusetts Diocese. Besides serving as the secretary for the local Bishop, Mitchell T. Rozanski, Father Wood is on the diocesan "vocation team." See here.
Father Wood responded to this reader by implying that I should not be, "airing [my] frustrations in such a public and uncharitable way" and added: "Please see Matthew 18: 15-18.." Then he suggested, in part, that I should "find a new place to go to Mass.."
This reader responded responded:
"You are the one being uncharitable. And Father Naranjo's promotion of an individual who publically opposes Church teaching and routinely uses profanity is disgusting...Saint Thomas Aquinas, from his Summa (you might try reading it sometime):
I answer that, With regard to the public denunciation of sins it is necessary to make a distinction: because sins may be either public or secret. On the case of public sins, a remedy is required not only for the sinner, that he may become better, but also for others, who know of his sin, lest they be scandalized. Wherefore such like sins should be denounced in public, according to the saying of the Apostle (1 Timothy 5:20): "Them that sin reprove before all, that the rest also may have fear," which is to be understood as referring to public sins, as Augustine states (De Verb. Dom. xvi, 7).
True peace, not the asinine false irenicism promoted by poorly educated clerics such as Father Michael Wood, must be constructed day after day with compassion, solidarity,
fraternity and collaboration on everyone's part. And of course, it must be
remembered that there is no authentic peace without prayer and a genuine love
for truth. In the words of Pope John XXIII: "...as long as we are journeying
in exile over this earth, our peace and happiness will be imperfect. For such
peace is not completely untroubled and serene; it is active, not calm and
motionless. In short, this is a peace that is
ever at war. It wars with every sort of error, including that which falsely
wears the face of truth; it struggles against the enticements of
vice, against those enemies of the soul, of whatever description, who can
weaken, blemish, or destroy our innocence or Catholic faith." (Ad Petri
Cathedram No. 93).
Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Recurrens
Mensis October (The recurrence of the month of October), 1969, said that,
"Undoubtedly, peace is the concern of men and a good common to all. As such, it
must be the constant care of everyone...Despite much good will, there are many
interests in opposition; much selfishness is shown; many antagonisms increase;
many rivalries conflict with one another. Who does not see, then, the unflagging
action demanded from each and all in order that love may triumph over discord
and that peace may be restored to the city of men?"
There is no peace
without God. And no peace without prayer. Which is why there is no peace among
men. Most men do not pray - even many of those who give lip service to
prayer. Pope Paul VI continues, "..peace is also the concern of God. He has
placed in our hearts the ardent desire for peace. He urges us to work toward it,
each doing his share, and for that purpose He sustains our feeble energies and
our vacillating wills. He alone can give us a peaceful soul, and confirm in
depth and solidity our efforts for peace. Prayer, by which we ask for the gift of peace, is therefore
an irreplaceable contribution to the establishment of peace. It is through
Christ, in whom all grace is given us, that we dispose ourselves to welcome the
gift of peace. And in that undertaking, how can we do otherwise
than to depend lovingly upon the incomparable intercession of Mary, His Mother,
of whom the Gospel tells us that she 'found favor with God'?"
For Father Wood, clerics are above reproach and above criticism, no matter how fraternal such criticism is. And the role of the laity is to shut up, pay their tithes and, if they're unhappy with error or scandalous behavior from a cleric, to find another parish.
Father Wood needs to spend more time prayerfully reading and meditating upon Christifideles Laici. In the meantime, he has no business being on a vocation team. One cannot give to others what one does not possess. How can he provide a solid example of what a priest should be when he fails to live the life of an authentic shepherd?