Why Those Who Publicly Attack Bishops Are Wrong

There is reason to be ambivalent about Michael Voris’ resolution not to publically criticize the Holy Father.  Mark Shea has shown good example for having been quick and firm in his commendation of Voris.  I certainly could have been more gracious in the matter, especially considering that Voris has refused to back down in the face of the reactionary backlash. But even Mark Shea, as gracious as he is, acknowledges the same defect that I have found necessary to emphasize, namely, that Voris’ “gospel of anger” has created the reactionary “Frankenstein” that now wishes to eat him.  In my estimation this is because his argument for his silence about the Holy Father is on shaky ground.

Voris has worked hard to distinguish between his jihad against the bishops and his reverent silence concerning the Pope. He says the Pope is different, but to my mind does not really show how. And his reactionary friends along side of whom he used to fight have now pointed their weapons at him. Still, I do commend him sincerely for having drawn this line, and I do not want this post to be perceived as fundamentally polemical.  Voris is sincerely trying to work his way through the quagmire of modern Church life and it is not easy.

Why It Matters

Why does this matter at all?  Or who cares what Michael Voris is talking about?  It matters, not because Voris is all that important, but because the whole question about how faithful Catholics ought to respond to the bishops and the Holy Father in public is important generally, and particularly pertinent to the present moment.

It is well known, for example, that a wedge is being driven between the pontificates of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. This is acknowledged even by the likes of the very mainstream and astute John Allen, Jr.  Furthermore, it is becoming more and more fashionable for those along the orthodox/traditional spectrum, professional journalists and the pajama pundits alike, to pronounce sentence on everything the pope and the bishops have to say. The common argument is this is what good, faithful members of the Church Militant do.  It is not something they may do.  It is something they ought to do and if they don’t, they are either unfaithful or just lack the necessary intestinal fortitude.

Voris’ situation is noteworthy because of his influence among Traditional Catholics who frequent the internet, and because he now finds himself in the curious position of having to defend why he finds himself perfectly justified to blast the bishops and at the same time obligated to remain mum about the Holy Father.  His arguments bring to the fore some important issues.  Voris clearly is unhappy with Pope Francis.  His disclaimer is a clever public acknowledgment of this fact, but now under pressure from his reactionary friends he has drawn a line in the sand. Why?  All of this is worth caring about.  It does matter, because this issue is in the minds of many and it is an important issue.


Voris’ purpose (here and here) is not simply to distinguish between ordinary bishops and the Supreme Pontiff, but to show why it is that the heads of dioceses can be openly attacked and the head of the universal Church cannot. He says it is precisely because the pope is head of the Church and by attacking him one is attacking the Church. The obvious inference here is that since an ordinary bishop is not the head of the Church, he does not represent the Church.  Obviously there is a difference.  Only the pope is the Supreme Head of the Universal Church. But does the bishop really not represent the Church?  By attacking him does the attacker really manage not to attack the Church?

Voris thinks the answer to this question is simply a matter of perception.  People perceive that attacking the pope is to attack the Church and they do not feel that way about ordinary bishops.  In fact, Voris suggests that the reason we ought to be careful about how we publically treat the pope is because the vast majority of people are not “historians or philosophers or authors or theologians.”  No, Joe and Jane Catholic in the pew have a more “tender” faith. They are “little ones” that need protecting.  So I suppose Voris is suggesting that to attack the Holy Father is bad pastoral practice, which is interesting coming from him.   It seems that for him it really is not a matter of doctrine but of the sensitivities of the faithful.

Notice the argument he does not make. He does not argue that to attack the Pope is to attack the Church. He argues only that those who are less enlightened than historians, philosophers and theologians perceive it that way.  He also says that unless one is a saint, one ought to refrain from castigating the pope, and even then, he admits “no saints ever took to the airwaves and Facebook and the Internet to attack him.” But is the only reason the saints took this tack, because the weak in faith would perceive it as attacking the Church, when if fact, it really is not?

Voris goes as far as to say that those on the right are just as disobedient as those on the left, because

they each have their own understanding of the Church and they are attempting to draw people to that alternate Church and they are using the pope as their weapon – just in opposite ways.

So what I understand Voris to be saying is that historians, philosophers and theologians might disagree with the Holy Father and tell him so, but they ought not scandalize the simple faithful by publically excoriating the pope, because simple people see this as an attack on the Church and it might lead them to loose their faith, or opt for some extra-ecclesial arrangement like the SSPX.

But in Voris’ mind none of this seems to apply in any way at all to the bishops, even though it really only comes down to a matter of perception.  One might ask if it is really true that Catholics do not perceive the bishops as representing the Church.  If the simple faithful did perceive it that way and Voris was convinced that this was so, would he act differently?  Would he be careful about what he said about individual bishops?  I am not so sure.


I would submit that a sound solution to this problem cannot be simply a matter of perception or of pastoral sensibility, but it must be a doctrinal solution.  It is not primarily because anyone perceives the Holy Father as representing the Church that to attack him seems to be attacking the Church, thus causing scandal in the little ones.  On the contrary, it is because to attack the Holy Father is to attack the Church, regardless of what anyone perceives, that one must not do it.  And for the same reason that this is true about the Holy Father, it is also true about other bishops, though in a subordinate way.

Voris supplies the ground for the argument without utilizing its full force:  Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia.  “Where Peter is, there is the Church.”   This phrase from St. Ambrose is not simply a matter of what one perceives, but of what it is.  It is the presence of Peter in his office as Supreme Pontiff that guarantees the presence of the Church.  This is a reality, not merely a matter of perception.  Of course, I am sure that Voris knows and believes this. But that is not what he argued.

The Church is present in Peter not only when he exercises his infallible charism as pope, but also in the exercise of the full power of the sacrament of Holy Orders in its triple office (tria munera Christi) to sanctify, teach and govern. It is not just a matter of the special charism attached to his office as pope.  It is also of particular importance that the special papal charism is given to the bishop of Rome, who possesses the sacramental character of Holy Orders in its fullness.

It is by virtue of the sacramental character of Holy Orders that all bishops, including the pope, are conformed to Christ the Head and thus have the power to sanctify, teach and govern the Church. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, basing itself on the teaching of the Council of Trent, declares the following:

For the discharging of such great duties, the apostles were enriched by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and they passed on this spiritual gift to their helpers by the imposition of hands, and it has been transmitted down to us in Episcopal consecration. And the Sacred Council teaches that by Episcopal consecration the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred, that fullness of power, namely, which both in the Church’s liturgical practice and in the language of the Fathers of the Church is called the high priesthood, the supreme power of the sacred ministry. But Episcopal consecration, together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and of governing, which, however, of its very nature, can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head and the members of the college (21).

By virtue of his episcopal consecration, which imparts a sacramental character, the bishop has the power to sanctify, teach and govern.  By virtue of the sacrament alone he has the power to sanctify, but in addition to the sacrament, in order to teach and govern he must be also in communion with the Successor of St. Peter.  Thus, the authority to teach and govern, not only to sanctify, is a sacramental reality, bestowed in its fullness on bishops, and only on them. That is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.  And for this reason, the bishop of the primal See of Rome, and no one else, receives the papal charism.

Thus, there is and can be no substitute for the bishop, who alone has an apostolic mandate from Christ Himself to sanctify, teach and govern in His person.  Only the bishops are successors of the apostles.  Only they by Holy Orders are conformed to Christ the Head according to which they have an apostolic mandate to govern the Church in communion with the successor of St. Peter.  This is the order, which Christ Himself established, and there is no other.

This kind of regard for the episcopacy is of apostolic origin, rooted in Christ’s institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and in the emergence of the college of bishops from the communion of the twelve apostles under Peter by apostolic succession.  The authority of the bishop to sanctify, teach and govern has been acknowledged from the beginning to proceed from the Sacrament of Holy Orders and for that reason, even in the lowliest of bishops, to have a supernatural character. Every priest, sharing in the priesthood of Christ, acts in the person of Christ  (in persona Christi capitis ecclesia), especially in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But it is the bishop who in a particular way is conformed by the sacrament to Christ the Head, “authorized and empowered” by Him to act in His name (cf. CCC 874-878, esp. 875)

St. Ignatius of Antioch

Father Ryan Erlenbush at The New Theological Movement some time ago wrote an excellent exposé on the teaching of St. Ignatius of Antioch concerning the authority of bishops. I highly recommend a prayerful reading of his text, especially by those who are inclined to minimize the force of my argument.

The Apostolic Father, St. Ignatius of Antioch lived in the first and second century.  He was the third bishop of Antioch and a disciple of St. John the Apostle. He is the earliest and probably the most important patristic witness to emergence of bishops in succession to the apostles and to episcopal authority.  The following is from his Letter to the Magnesians:

It is becoming, therefore, that you also should be obedient to your bishop, and contradict him in nothing; for it is a fearful thing to contradict any such person. For no one does [by such conduct] deceive him that is visible, but does [in reality] seek to mock Him that is invisible, who, however, cannot be mocked by any one. And every such act has respect not to man, but to God. . . .

Some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not steadfastly gathered together according to the commandment.

And St. Ignatius offers no out for those who believe that they have a higher obedience owed to God that allows them to circumvent bishop’s authority to sanctify, teach and govern the Church. In fact, Ignatius says nothing of the bishop’s worthiness or virtue.   On the contrary, he says that without the bishop, with his priest and deacon helpers under him, there is no Church:

It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all […] let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church […] he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience (Letter to the Trallians).

There is no Church without the hierarchy comprised of those in Holy Orders, who by sacramental grace are conformed in a particular way to Christ, the Head of the Church.  Attack the head and you attack the Church.  As St. Ignatius says, this is not a matter of the respect of men, but of God, because such an attack is mockery not of the one who visibly represents Christ, but of Christ Himself.

Head of the Church

For all these reasons it ought to be clear that not only the pope represents the Church but also the other bishops. Perhaps Voris is right in saying that within a certain segment of the Church the pope is perceived as representing the whole Church and the bishops are not.  But it is really not a matter of what is perceived but of what is.

Aside from being the heads of the local churches, bishops are the successors of the apostles and belong by virtue of both their sacramental consecration and their communion with the Vicar of Christ to the college of bishops.  So reads the Catechism, quoting Lumen Gentium:

When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.” Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another” (880).

By being conformed to Christ the Head of the Church by means of their sacramental consecration and through their communion with the Bishop of Rome, the bishops are the successors of the apostles, and are empowered by Christ through the sacramental grace of Holy Orders and by charisms proper to their office to sanctify teach and govern the Church. Without them there is no Church. Where they are present, the Church is present.  Thus, to attack them is to attack the Church.

So Voris’ argument is problematic on two points: 1) he makes his refusal to publically criticize the pope simply a matter of not scandalizing the little ones, and not a matter of doctrine; 2) he fails to recognize that to attack any bishop, not just the pope, is to attack the Church.


John Allen, Jr. gave a noteworthy speech recently, in which he observed, as does Michael Voris, that the left and the right, the enthusiastic and ambivalent, are both using the “Francis Effect” to their advantage. The enthusiasts on the left are using it as a club against more traditional Catholics and the ambivalent on the right are pressing all the alarms and drumming up a resistance.

I am not going to spend anytime rehearsing the excesses of the enthusiasts on the left who are pushing for same-sex marriage, abortion and communion for the divorced and remarried—many of whom are still trapped in the 70’s and 80’s ecclesiastical and liturgical euphoria. Those people are not reading my blog, though frequently my commenters find it necessary to remind me, as though I had forgotten, what Catholic life is “really” like.

Nor am I going to recite a litany of damnation against all the bishops who have taught heresy, butchered the liturgy, or otherwise undermined Catholic life.  Again, the people who need (if there is such a need) to know more about this do not read my blog, and besides, there are any number of persons, blogs and organizations dedicated to this purpose, such as Michael Voris and CMTV (which, unfortunately, I cannot recommend).  I will say however, that I fully acknowledge that in the Church, just as in the natural human family, fatherhood has not been held in high esteem for quite awhile, particularly by fathers themselves.  Fatherlessness is an epidemic of the modern world and it has affected all facets of human life, including the Church.  I am not, nor have I ever ignored this problem.  In fact, it is one of the principle reasons why MaryVictrix.com exists.

The context here is bishop bashing and Francis bashing among those who profess to adhere to Catholic orthodoxy and for whom the unadulterated deposit of the faith is essential.  So it is here that I focus my attention.  I just ask that commenters do not provide the long litanies of all their ecclesiastical woes in the comment section, if by so doing their purpose is to enlighten me of what I seem to show myself ignorant of. I am not ignorant of what goes on out there.

So John Allen says that Francis has an “older son problem,” referring to the parable of the prodigal son and the reaction of the older son to the father’s indulgence of the prodigal son at his return. Allen is referring specifically and by name to pro-life Catholics, liturgical traditionalists, doctrinal purists, political conservatives, and Church personal in Vatican.  That is quite a group of people for the pope to alarm, and/or alienate. But Francis’s attention, like it or not, is turned largely toward those on the frontier, along the lines of the New Evangelization.

In spite of the fact that the new pontificate was Pope Benedict’s idea, that Francis’ program was largely mandated by the cardinals who elected him, and that Francis and Benedict reportedly are in frequent contact, the ambivalent on the right seem hell bent on emphasizing every contrast and minimizing every complementarity between the two popes. Some of the ambivalent believe that Francis is driving Traditional Catholics right out the door—that an exodus is immanent if he does not make some grandiose gesture of good will, such as regularizing the SSPX without requiring them to sign an agreement.

In this context “ultramontanism,” “papolotry” and “magisterialism” are the new buzzwords of the ambivalent right.  “The pope is infallible only in very narrow circumstances.” “Vatican II was a pastoral council, not dogmatic.”  “We must judge the present magisterium in the light of the perennial teaching of the Church.” Of course, all of these statements are true as they stand.  But what has happened is that the bishops generally and even the pope more specifically have come to be treated merely as functionaries, CEO’s, politicians and bureaucrats instead of men who have been sacramentally conformed by Holy Orders to Christ, the Head of the Church.  There are probably many reasons for this, but not the least of them is the fact that many bishops have behaved very much like functionaries, CEO’s, politicians and bureaucrats, or at least they have been perceived by many to have behaved so.

So now, unless the pope speaks infallibly, which rarely ever happens, he can openly be criticized without restriction as long at Catholic in question thinks he is defending the faith. And likewise, bishops who never on their own speak infallibly are subject to the policing of every good orthodox Catholic. Anything else would be “magisterialism.”

Divine Providence

The naturalism that has affected the whole world and the Church for the last fifty years has also influenced the beleaguered Catholics who are desperately trying to find a refuge from the wickedness of this world in the Church.  Because the Church seems to have failed them, and as far as they see it, largely because clergymen have treated them like lepers, they find it nearly impossible to have a supernatural regard for the divinely willed episcopacy or to see divine providence working in the midst of the postconciliar Church.   I don’t mean this as a judgment, and I understand that the statement could use a bit more nuance and that there are plenty of exceptions to its application.  But as a general statement, with all its limitations, I believe it reflects reality.

The Cross is a mystery of divine providence. This central mystery of our faith, which is a scandal to the Jews and folly to the gentiles (1 Cor 1:23), is the working out of grace in the midst of the contingent circumstances of history, over much of which we have no control. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the nature of divine providence, far from excluding the possibility of evil, allows evil because, while good but imperfect things sometimes produce evil, they also produce good. Only God sees the entirety of history and sees how each part fits into the whole, and the express manner in which all things work for the good of those who love God (cf. Rom 8:28).  According to St. Thomas, God allows evil in a part so that “there may an increase of goodness in the whole.”  But all this implies an overarching purpose and a Governor who directs the working out of history to its final end.

Deists treat the universe like a giant clock and God the clockmaker. He made the world and set it in motion and now everything is reducible to natural causes.  We identify the causes and learn to control them we control the clock.  The causes that we do not learn to control or which we cannot control leave open the possibility for things to go wrong.  Men, who are free agents and cannot be completely controlled, are the biggest problem the deists have to contend with.  If deists believe in divine providence at all, it is only insofar as in the end God will bring history to some kind of favorable resolution.

But this, of course, is not Catholic doctrine. Divine providence is the presence of God in history, even in the natural causes of the universe, not only at the beginning of creation and the end of time, but in all of the particulars in between. He is present even in the free actions of men.  We are truly free, but we can do nothing without Him.  This is the mystery of divine providence.

He is present and exercising His providence even when we sin. And sin is a horrible thing that we must detest and rather than commit it we must be prepared to die.  The problem of evil is something that philosophers and theologians have always grappled with, but fundamentally it is the privation of the good that is proper to any being, and God is not responsible for it. But in some mysterious way He is the Governor over all the particulars so that each of them, even each sin—which He does not will or participate in—contributes to the working out of His plan. In such a manner we regard, for example, the sins of Judas and the Sanhedrin during the Easter Triduum.

If this is true about divine providence in respect to the divine nature and its relation to purely natural causes, it is even more relevant to the God-Man Jesus Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church, to which He has attached the promise that against it the gates of Hell will not prevail.

Christ yesterday and today
The beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega,
All time belongs to him,
And all ages;
To him be glory and power,
every age and for ever. Amen.

From faith in the order that He has established proceeds unyielding hope and by extension trust in His divine providence. Our faith is in Christ not in man.

But Still . . .

I know how many readers will respond to this. “What you are saying is ‘pray and obey.’ Just do nothing in the face of all the evils of modernity. Go along with the sins and abuses that so many, including those in authority, are committing. Stand by and watch, trusting that God will work it all out.”

But this is a false dichotomy: bash the bishops or do nothing. Many times I have read in the comments on my blog the implication that only those who openly oppose the modern magisterium are doing anything about abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. This is simply and utterly false.  For example, the two groups in America that perhaps do more work against the homosexual agenda (directly or indirectly) than any other organizations, one Catholic, the other directed and supported largely by Catholics, do so without engaging in public criticism of either the Holy Father or bishops:  Courage and the National Organization for Marriage. The notion that heresy is not being combatted except by those who are constantly harping on the magisterium gives short shrift to the tremendous work being done by many priests and religious and laypeople who preach, teach, catechize, engage in formation and write on behalf of the one true faith, without attacking the bishops or the Holy Father. The notion that those who do not disrespect the bishops and the Holy Father are simply standing by and condoning sin, doing nothing to save souls from hell, or otherwise neglecting their duty, betrays an ecclesiology and an ecclesiality that is not Catholic.

The fact is that for Catholics there are always limits to what we may and may not do in the interests of the true and the good. Our Church is the last bastion set around principled morality, and it forbids us to do evil for a good end under any circumstance.  If I am right and it is an evil thing to openly attack bishops, then not even to save the Church from the gates of hell would be a legitimate pretext to do so.

This being the case, the ongoing debate about the morality of “Catholic lying,” that is, the deliberate use of deception in the fight against immorality touches upon something essential to the faith and pertinent to our times.  We desperately trying to hang on the last shards of morality and religious sanity, and the difficulty of the times challenge us to find creative and tenacious ways of doing so. But there are limits. That is what makes us different than the enemies of the Church.

We are supposed to be friends of the Cross. The character of our faith, as not merely human, but supernatural, must direct our attention to the mysterious workings of divine providence, in which as followers of Jesus we know that we conquer not by conforming to human philosophy, but to the wisdom of the Cross. This is the meaning of the Book of the Apocalypse.  It is the victory of the Lamb who is slain and of the martyrs who have washed their garments clean in the blood of the Lamb.  The Apocalypse is about the presence of divine providence in the very difficult particulars of history.

No good will come from disrespecting the order set up by Christ Himself. Our trust in the Church is trust in Christ, not in man. It is His job to govern the contingencies of history in which the wheat and the chaff grow together. We are to work tirelessly for His Kingdom, but within the parameters that He has set up.

Fraternal Correction

All of this is not to say that fraternal correction of our superiors is never in order, or that we are never justified in having recourse to higher superiors in the Church, or in publically correcting scandal, even when bishops commit it.  You can read St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject here.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the complex situations of our age, but I do know that matter is not as simple as some Internet pundits make it.

Not only are the alleged faults of bishops paraded in front of the whole world on a daily basis by every Tom, Dick and Harry, but it is done in the most vicious and scandalous ways.  Certain regions of the internet, especially blogs and comment sections, are sometimes truly despicable depositories of malicious, morose, bitter and poisonous sins against the honor of Christ and His ministers, and this is done not by the presumed reprobate enemies of Our Lord, but by those who profess to love Him and His Holy Church.

Again, I acknowledge in principle that it is legitimate to correct public scandals against faith and morals, even when bishops commit them, but it is unlikely that St. Thomas foresaw what is taking place in the information age, and certainly much of what goes on in the media and on the internet, including the work of Michael Voris, does not measure up to his standards. St. Thomas compares attacks on prelates to the deed for which Uzzah was struck dead (cf. 1 Chr 13:10). He says that touching one’s prelate “inordinately,” upbraiding him “insolently” and speaking “ill of him” is equivalent to touching “the mount and the ark.” For the same reason, David spared the life of Saul, whom he had in his grasp. The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord (1 Sam 24:6).

This is not about style or mere form. It is about doctrine. The sacred ministers, especially bishops, are conformed to Christ the Head, and do represent the Church. Indeed, they represent Christ Himself, regardless of their personal worthiness of that dignity.

He Who Hears You. . .

Either Michael Voris is right about the Pope and is inconsistent in his refusal to apply his principle to the bishops, or his friends at The Remnant and Catholic Family News are right and he has unjustifiably attacked them.

I believe Voris is on the right track, but that he has not gone far enough.  The question is not about perception, but doctrine and the very argument he uses to defend silence about the pope applies fully, though subordinately, to the bishops. His own words can be used against him. He said:

We will not pursue a path that has the great potential to either prevent souls from coming to the Church or so weaken the faith of some souls that they leave the Church.

If you want to cancel subscriptions or send spiteful emails or cease your support—so bit it. But we will never do anything that can cause doubt in the minds of the faithful or those looking at the Church.

But he does not follow his own resolution and he does not go far enough with it.  He does not follow it because he goes on to say that none of this applies to bishops, even claiming that no one leaves the Church because of something a cardinal says or does.  But in fact, every priest knows that all kinds of people leave the Church because of scandal caused by priests and bishops.  Voris is one of the prime enablers of this scandal by broadcasting it day in and day out to as many in the pews who will listen.

And Voris does not go far enough because in the end for him it is only about whether anyone is adversely affected by the scandal. He simply does not acknowledge that this behavior contradicts faith in the Catholic doctrine concerning the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the nature of the Church.

Adoration and reverence are necessary consequences of faith in the Eucharist.  A analogous kind of holy fear in regard to the sacred priesthood is necessary consequence of faith in the true nature of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  It has nothing to do with respect for human persons on their own merits, or is it about people’s perceptions.  It has only to do with respect for Christ and His Holy Church.

Voris’ reactionary friends have lost this sense in a profound way and so they rightly do not understand why Voris applies himself to unequally to his principle of not attacking the Church.  Mark Shea is right.  Voris has helped to create a monster that now has come back to eat him. And it is eating others as well, because it lessens the faithful’s attachment to the true Mystical Body of Christ. The Church is not some abstraction concerning Eternal Rome, and concrete membership in it cannot be qualified by all kinds of erudite caveats. Our Lord said to the Apostles:  He who hears you hears me (Lk 10:16).  Our first response to this should not be to qualified it, but to follow it.

The faithful have always intuited this. It is why generally, for better or worse, the priesthood has been held in high esteem even when the Church has been filled with scandals.  St. Francis’ of Assisi’s refusal to criticize a priest was not expressed in the terms of academic theology, but this great mystic understood the doctrine.  He was once asked about a scandalous priest by a Waldensian heretic, who did not believe that unworthy priests validly administered the sacraments: “Must we believe in his teaching and respect the sacraments he performs?” he asked.

In response, Francis went to the priest’s home and knelt before him saying:

I don’t know whether these hands are stained as the other man says they are. [But] I do know that even if they are, that in no way lessens the power and effectiveness of the sacraments of God… That is why I kiss these hands out of respect for what they perform and out of respect for Him who gave His authority to them.

St. Francis had nothing else to say on the matter.  And let us not forget that he received a mandate directly from God, confirmed by pope, to rebuild the Church.  It is St. Francis, who in a particular way has title to “rebuilder of the Church,” and his statue now stands in front of the pope’s Cathedral, because in a dream Innocent III saw St. Francis preventing it and what it represents from being destroyed.


By way of conclusion, it is fitting to admit that equilibrium within the Church is never an easy thing because it is always posited on getting the balance between grace and nature right. Everything we believe is related to the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. Every Christological heresy, and many Trinitarian heresies were condemned because they went too far in one direction or the other.  Even legitimate theological schools in within the Church are in disagreement about where the balance is to be found.  In practice, that is, when it comes to applying the doctrine in which we believe, there is a measure of prudence involved.  And about things pertaining to prudence good men may disagree.

Bishops are human, but their conformity to Christ the Head by which they have authority to sanctify, teach and govern is divine. The providence of God is a divine thing, but we largely see it working itself out in the natural order where we are called to work as hard as we can for our own salvation and that of others.

I am fully aware that my argument could be misunderstood and used to advocate for the worst kind of clericalism, or to do what Pope Francis would has asked not to be done, namely, “to clericalize the laity.” It could also be misinterpreted to mean that we should just sit on our hands and wait for Our Lord to fix things.  This is why I ask the reader to think about everything I have said, and not only part of it.

In the past the divine character of the priesthood led people to be completely silent about abuses that should have been taken to the police, and the abusers used the divine character of their office like the predators that they were.  But it is also true that the depravity of these men’s lives have led people to stop believing in the priesthood and in the Church herself.  One attitude was a regard for priests that was too “divine,” the other too “human.”  The balance is not always easy.

Some will say times are much worse than they were in the days of St. Francis.  Go back and read about the state of clerical life in the 13th century.  Don’t kid yourself.

Priests bear a heavy responsibility of conforming themselves personally to the mystery that has been impressed on their souls. They are called to be shepherds after the heart of Christ, and they will be judged accordingly. I have emphasized here our responsibility towards the Church in respect to her ministers.  My intent is not in any way to minimize the responsibility of bishops to live up to there calling.  In connection with this I recommend reading Pope Benedict here and here, and Pope Francis here.

I am not arguing for an extreme.  I am arguing against one.  Christ is the via media, and He continues to be present in His Church through His grace and divine providence. The Church belongs to Him and He will protect it.  We must do our part by following His plan and respecting what He Himself established.

I will be monitoring comments closely.  Those that do not conform to the following standards will be deleted:

  1. Read the entire post before you comment.  Any comment that indicates to me that you have not will be deleted.
  2. No ad hominems either opposing side.
  3. Do not take up space in the comments with litanies, links and videos of all the grievances you have with bishops and the postconciliar Church.  No one disputes that there have been problems.
  4. Reasoned arguments are welcome.  Rants and diatribes are not.
  5. Read the entire post before you comment.  Really.

71 thoughts on “Why Those Who Publicly Attack Bishops Are Wrong

  1. Fr. Angelo,

    I do hope people will take the 10-15 minutes needed to read the entire post. As I read it, I thought you would miss the point that most people make, that the complaints about the bishops is “fraternal correction.” I am glad that you did not miss this point and addressed it.

    I want to make three points about Aquinas:

    First, St. Thomas says about fraternal correction, is that most of what we see in new media and social media is NOT fraternal correction; it is contempt-filled speech, which in itself is sinful (venial or objectively grave, depending on what is said).

    The second point that I make is that much of what people comment on involves prudential judgment. People attribute cowardice to a bishop’s public inaction on something, when it may be a matter of him not wanting to pull up weeds with the wheat. Attributing cowardice is a low hanging fruit and it is engaging in a reading of the bishops soul.

    Thirdly, Aquinas made very clear that even when a prelate’s words or actions endanger the faith, and thus, is subject to public correction by others below him, he is very clear on how it must be handled. There are boundaries that ought not be crossed. This is found in his reply to objection 2 where he says:

    Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 5:1): “An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father.” Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church

    So, while I think one can prudently and respectfully disagree with a prelate on his public words, how this is done really matters.

    Notice also how Aquinas says that one may fraternally correct *his* prelate. Most people are not discussing their own bishop, but usually someone else’s. This is like interfering in matters in the house next door or in the next city. I think Aquinas could have written a whole section based on the minefield of sinful behavior one can engage in online. In his day, only the deeds of one’s only prelate was visible. Now, people decry what bishops are doing across diocesan boundaries and across oceans. This is not to say that when a bishop’s words or actions are made public on an international level, people can’t discuss it. However, I agree with you that drawing attention to everything that is going wrong is dangerous and can adversely affect those whose faith is weak. Things can get taken out of context, or a classic case of imprudence can happen.

    This topic has been of interest to me for some time. I think we need to have more discussions on it in s dispassionate way. You are right to presume that your post will be misunderstood as I have encountered the same whenever I have discussed it.

    Since I’m not linking to a grievance, I hope you don’t mind me offering a link to a post I did some months ago: What Aquinas really said about fraternal correction of a prelate

    • Diane,

      Thanks for your comments and the links. My post was longer than I wanted it to be, so I hoped that commenters would fill in the gaps in regard to what I could only hint at.

      What I wanted to make clear, is that this whole question is a doctrinal one and not merely one of style or pastoral sensibility. It is not only about scandal but of acting like we believe in what Christ instituted in the Church and in the sacred priesthood.

  2. You are also spot on in your observations about Mr. Voris. While I have been four square behind him about not attacking he Pope (I had a few posts about the nakedness of Noe and our duty to cover his putative nakedness – and I like to think I had some influence in CMTV adopting that as a reason for its actions) he is wrong about attacking the Bishops.

    It has become common place to treat them as though they are politicians.

    Pope Benedict XV is no longer heeded although what he taught is as true today as it was then, perhaps even truer (paragraphs 22-25)


    Pray, pay, obey, although sneered at , is the Christian Catholic way and we must remember that God will deal with wayward Bishops; it is not our job.

    Ezek 34: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.  ” ‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD :  As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD :This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock

    Be patient and wait on The Lord.

    As one whose SDT (soi disant traditionalist) spiritual infection was cleared by Grace, I am somewhat of an expert of how leaden that infection is – it dragged be down onto the ceiling of sedevacantism and it made me judgmental, bitter, and hateful and solely by the Grace of God was I lifted up back into Full Communion with Holy Mother Church and yet the hateful, angry, and bitter words I wrote will remain forever on the internet.

    Don’t be a fool like me.

  3. I have been wondering where you were, Father, for the past week or so. Now I know. This is a tremendous post, well thought out and backed up. You present your argument very logically. There are so many notable statements that you make, but I think you really hit it with this:

    “But what has happened is that the bishops generally and even the pope more specifically have come to be treated merely as functionaries, CEO’s, politicians and bureaucrats instead of men who have been sacramentally conformed by Holy Orders to Christ, the Head of the Church.”

    Too many of us have really come to see the office of the bishop and even the Pope as comparable to those of politicians with whom we can disagree and kick out. That is most definitely what Voris has done with the bishops. How many times have I heard him tell the bishops that they are going to hell, that they should “GET OUT!!”.

    There is another quote from Lumen Gentium which I think is very appropriate:

    “Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, (11) presiding in place of God over the flock,(12) whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing.(13) And just as the office granted individually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and is to be transmitted to his successors, so also the apostles’ office of nurturing the Church is permanent, and is to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. (14) Therefore, the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, (15) as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.(149)(16)”

    I think too many of us have become just like the Israelites wandering through the desert, complaining against Moses every step of the way. I have also used the example of Uzzah many times in regard to this situation. I think it comes down to this: do we believe Christ is in charge of the church, or do we, like Uzzah, think that it is up to us to “right the ark”?

    It is only a matter of a few months ago that Voris was quite literally rubbing shoulders with the likes of Michael Matt, Chris Ferrara and Louie Verrecchio. He was going to their conferences and doing videos with them. He did a video with Michael Matt and Dr. John Rao shortly after one of the pope’s interviews just last October where they tore the pope apart. And then in January, Voris comes out with the statement that he will not publicly (and I think the emphasis should be on the word “publicly”) attack the pope.

    This is why his former pals cannot understand what happened to him, and he is not giving any hints about what led him to this epiphany. It’s great that Voris has decided not to attack the visible head of the Church on earth, but he is still attacking and seemingly try to destroy the rest of the body. He is still guilty of causing division in the Church. He is still claiming that only those who think like he does are the “true” church and the rest of the church, which he calls the “Church of Nice”, is nothing but a sham.

    There is a reason why his bishop forced Voris to remove the word “Catholic” from his organization.

    • Mary,

      Voris is on thin ice. He had to start thinking his way clear to stay silent about the Pope and came up with an argument that is a half measure. I don’t think it is sustainable. He has to move one way or another.

  4. Well, I read the entire doozy of a post. You’re welcome.

    You excel in vagaries that no one can dispute, but why not get practical? What exactly should the faithful do in response to the imposition of, say, Common Core in their diocese? Really, what should they do?

    I’ll be shocked if you respond with anything more than generic platitudes.

    • jvc,

      I have shown patience with your attitude, but it is running thin. Consider this your only warning.

      What I have provided are principles. Principles are only “vagaries” and “platitudes” to pragmatists, like Saul Alinksi. Specific cases require making prudential judgments. But if you want to discuss the vagueness of my principles further you will have to be less vague.

      Regarding Common Core: You could present the arguments by which Bishop Zubik rejected Common Core to the bishop of your diocese. Or you could support the Bradely letter which seems to have had some influence. Or you could write to Rome, or form a delegation and go there. I have no problem with discussing the wisdom of the decision to go along with this in public, and I never implied I would have a problem.

      Even real faults of bishops and their dereliction of duty does not make the public flogging of bishops okay.

  5. Matt 5:48 Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.

    If you don’t like what your Diocese is doing, speak directly with your Bishop and if his response leaves you unsatisfied, home school.

    It is Catholic Doctrine that parents have the first duty to teach their children; you can only control what you do – unless you are a member of the Castro Family or a POTUS

  6. JVC missed that solid couple of paragraphs where Fr. Angelo said this:

    I know how many readers will respond to this. “What you are saying is ‘pray and obey.’ Just do nothing in the face of all the evils of modernity. Go along with the sins and abuses that so many, including those in authority, are committing. Stand by and watch, trusting that God will work it all out.”

    But this is a false dichotomy: bash the bishops or do nothing….

    He then goes on to explain how such evils can be combatted without bishop bashing, but you have to read it in the body of the post.

    That set of paragraphs really spoke to me as this is the challenge anyone who is up against when trying to tell people that there are actually intelligent and respectful ways to respond to something besides referring to the Pope or a bishop as a jackass, or to say one of them is without faith. That’s the very kind of judgment of soul condemned by Jesus.

  7. Pingback: Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger…

  8. “Even real faults of bishops and their dereliction of duty does not make the public flogging of bishops okay.”

    Only, I’ve never seen you make a practical distinction with any specific case. More examples and I would find you more credible.

    It is always you doing the flogging, of every person who takes an issue with the church today.

    • jvc,

      I did not present an argument from authority. My being able to apply my own principles is not the issue, and do not make it so. I mean, really, just stop.

      Accept or reject the argument on its own merits.

  9. JVC – it’s as if you want to satisfy some itch by asking Fr. Angelo to discuss the faults of bishops. So, what does it accomplish but satisfy your itch and the itch of anyone else whose human fallen nature cause them to seek satisfaction in such things?

    Moreover, why not concern yourself with what your bishop is doing and deal with specific issues in your diocese – by writing to your bishop or the relevant dicastry/commission.

    Of course, that means leaving the matter in their hands and if the Holy See decides not to take public action, and leave it’s discussions private, what then – bash the Vatican? Where does it end? I think most people won’t write the bishop because they don’t think anything will change. They won’t follow up with the Holy See because they don’t think there will be action there. Try this: Once you write the Holy See let go of it – you have done your job as a responsible Catholic. The bishop and members of the Holy See are accountable before God, not you. Dwelling in it serves no purposes and the saints have often pointed out the problem with dwelling in other people’s faults, including that of the hierarchy.

    It’s very clear that what this is all about for some people is the need to see others called out (which really has not bearing on your own pursuit of holiness, unless you allow it). In a word, it is a form of concupiscence.

  10. Pingback: Socon or Bust » Why Those Who Publicly Attack Bishops Are Wrong

  11. This crisis of criticism of prelates is unfortunately of their own making. It is fundamentally a crisis of leadership and therefore it cannot be solved by the laity. It can only be solved by the prelates themselves who, unfortunately, are not interested in clear or courageous leadership. They are products of our Western Civilization which in its decay has rendered most males effeminate fops.

  12. Father Angelo,

    Your posting provides plenty of food for musings and thank you for it. If I may, one small suggestion: please republish this later on in a condensed version for those who lack the patience to read the entire piece.

    • Thanks everyone for your comments. I am going to replay here to a few of them and then separately to those that require longer answers.

      Shawn @2014/03/31 at 4:10 pm:

      You are welcome. I have a bad habit of writing posts that are too long. I will put another version of this one together. I have an idea of how to condense it nicely. Thanks.

      Fra Chris @ 2014/03/31 at 4:51 pm

      I don’t hold up any blogger as an icon of the faith, least of all myself. Mark Shea is no progressive or does his writing lack in Church teachings. Why would you wish him out of the Church? As much trouble as I think the SSPX are, I do not wish them out of the Church.

      It is these kind of statements, which I must examine myself on as well that does more damage than good.

      All of you, you are welcome and thank you as well. Please excuse me if I do not answer every comment. I am limited in the amount of time I have for this.

  13. Patrick Wells said:

    This crisis of criticism of prelates is unfortunately of their own making. It is fundamentally a crisis of leadership and therefore it cannot be solved by the laity. It can only be solved by the prelates themselves who, unfortunately, are not interested in clear or courageous leadership. They are products of our Western Civilization which in its decay has rendered most males effeminate fops.

    This attitude is part of the problem. It absolves the laity of looking inward at their own lack of holiness. It also minimizes the tole praying and sacrificing for our prelates has in the life of the Church. Just as the arms of Moses were held up by Aaron and Hur, we hold up our prelates through prayer and sacrifice. More over, When God is angry with us, he gives us the leaders we deserve. St. John Eudes spoke on this:

    “The most evident mark of God’s anger and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world are manifested when He permits His people to fall into the hands of clerics who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds. Instead of nourishing those committed to their care, they rend and devour them brutally. Instead of leading their people to God, they drag Christian souls into hell in their train. Instead of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, they are its innocuous poison and its murky darkness.

    …When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people, and is visiting His most dreadful anger upon them. That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians, “Return, O’ ye revolting children . . . and I will give you pastors according to my own heart” (Jer. 3:14-15). Thus, irregularities in the lives of priests constitute a scourge visited upon the people in consequence of sin.” [From Chapter 11: Qualities of a Holy Priest, in The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations by St. John Eudes]

    As long as we are focused on criticizing the bishops, we lose time learning how to become holy ourselves and assist others around us to be holy. Holiness is not simply avoiding serious sin, but the pursuit of virtue. Anyone running an apostolate that can’t let a day go by without leading others to dwell in the imperfections is acting contrary to the Gospel. There’s no basis in Scripture to root out the sins, faults, and imperfections of our bishops, only a command to root it out of our own lives. (Matthew 7:3-5)

  14. It’s a pity that rule #2 has been put in place: “No ad hominems either opposing side.”

    Otherwise, based on the attire in your icon , I wouldn’t have thought anything longer than a comic book would appeal to you.

    But…I must apply myself to the rules….
    (Mea culpa!)

  15. Being a Franciscan, I wholeheartedly agree that no one should attack the bishops or the hierarchy of our Church, and find it a bit burdensome. I do, however, take grave exception with anyone holding Mark Shea up as some angelic icon of our Roman Catholic Faith. I have personally experienced his crass, condescending tongue as well as his pushing the Progressive/Unorthodox envelope to the extreme. Also, I am tired of his blatant lack of Church teachings. He needs to come to grips with his being a writer by education and profession and not hold himself up as a philosopher or a theologian. If he doesn’t like the Church he has chosen to adopt then rather than make it Protestant, perhaps he himself should return to his Protestant roots where he would be better suited.

  16. The more the laity view Michael Voris et. al bash the clergy the more laity will feel they, too, are intitled to throw in their two cents. It becomes an abyss that may never be filled, even if Michael Voris and the others discontine their castigations.

  17. Father, you say that Voris has to move one way or the other. His recent Vortex episodes give a very good indication which direction he is moving in. Last week he did a Vortex where he said that no man who did not have a strong father figure in his life should be a priest because it is impossible for such a man to be a strong leader. He told those who are in the priesthood now who did not have a strong father figure that they should step aside. In other words, they should leave the priesthood. As far as I’m concerned, this is hubris on steroids, and is designed to make people distrust their priests.

    Today he did a Vortex entitled, “Fighting Back!” One statement in particular stands out: “Catholics NEED to understand that what is largely passing for Catholicism these days is a
    cheap knock off – even from leaders” Which leaders is Voris talking about? Are we really to believe it is everyone BUT the pope, and if that is true, is that okay?

    He then goes on to advertise his premium programming, for a “small” monthly fee. He sounds like a spiritual huckster to me. He says, “These programs .. plainly said .. are aimed at helping you to save your soul and so increase in holiness that you in turn become evangelizers yourself.” Why do we need bishops and priests when we have Michael Voris and his “premium programming”? We can fill our minds with his version of the Catholic Church for the “paltry” (his word) sum of $10 per month. Of course, that doesn’t include all the DVD’s and other material he sells as well. And he is always available to speak, for a fee of course.

    How does this square with “supporting the Pope”? Does Voris think that Pope Francis wants unordained lay people to make their living by shouting out over the internet that it is spiritual suicide to listen to the hierarchy of the Church?

    Voris is a media veteran, having been in the news business for many years. He knows how to play the game, he knows how to make people listen to him. Everything he does is for the purpose of putting all the focus on himself, to make people think that he has all the answers they are looking for. Forget about those bishops and priests – they’re just in it for themselves, they don’t care about you. Listen to Michael Voris. He will tell you the truth that our bishops – most of whom are headed to hell anyway – will never tell you.

    He is a very scary person. I can’t judge his soul, but his actions are not those of one wanting to unite the Church.

    I’ll leave it at that.

    • BLUF: You don’t have to have industrial age science and efficiency standards to be able to recognize incompetence and weak leadership. Even the Roman army sacked incompetent leaders and officers in the centuries before Christ. This crisis of criticism of prelates is unfortunately of their own making. It is fundamentally a crisis of leadership and therefore it cannot be solved by the laity. It can only be solved by the prelates themselves who, unfortunately, are not interested in clear or courageous leadership. They are products of our Western Civilization which in its decay has rendered most males effeminate fops.
      Respect is always earned. If you don’t earn it you don’t get it. Seriously, if I could put all ordained men through contact sports, basic training and the boy scouts I would. They really don’t have clue on how to lead people.
      You could at least expect that they would read books on leadership. There are dozens and dozens of good ones out there…But they don’t. With rank and position come responsibility and expectations of leadership. If you fail then you should be fired. Or forced into retirement. B16 was really good at making sure that happened.
      Retrospect has shown us that the prelates have failed en masse for nearly 40 years. Now that we have the hindsight of that the new generation should be fired or retired much more actively than in the past. Sort of like the Navy and ship captains. No more Bernard Laws or Rembrant Weaklands, or their brethren ilk. Yes the problems in the Church go back to 33 AD. Absolutely. And there have been poor military and civilian leaders since that time as well. They get sacked too. Just like them the Ecclesiastical leaders ought to get sacked if they are incompetent as opposed to being allowed to stay in office.
      Leadership, Responsibility, and Accountability. Its not too much to ask. But its things like this: “The Abuse scandal cost U.S. dioceses $108,954,109 in 2013” that keep common sensed folks watching their prelates like hawks. As long as we have this sort of situation going on with priests and bishops then things will be seriously askew. Busting them out in public is the only way to get through to numbskulls like this.

      • Patrick Wells @ 2014/03/31 at 8:38 pm:

        BLUF: You don’t have to have industrial age science and efficiency standards to be able to recognize incompetence and weak leadership. Even the Roman army sacked incompetent leaders and officers in the centuries before Christ. This crisis of criticism of prelates is unfortunately of their own making.

        This is true is one sense. No organization that hopes to survive in the world could competently be run the way the Church is run. But it has been that way since the beginning and it continues to survive in spite of the human element.

        Science and industry (physics) has never been the basis of the Church’s success or survival. Only the power of Christ (metaphysics) can explain why there is still a Church to fight over.

        But you are right, as I say, in part. Priests are the product of their formation. It is getting better, though.

        Even so, the goal is neither efficiency or the kind of polished business or military competency of the secular world, because the power we wield is not that of domination but of the Cross. Priests and bishops are “competent” and “efficient” when they are conformed to the Cross. That is a different standard entirely–not merely higher, but qualitatively different.

  18. You keep insisting on these false choices. Can you perceive a situation where criticism of a bishop does not constitute “flogging” or an “attack” or “flagellation,” or whatever violent metaphor you’re on at the moment?

    I have yet to see you make that distinction on this blog. Period.

    You can keep bashing anyone who opposes the state of the church, but it isn’t going to answer their criticism, or provide them with meaningful solutions. Do you even want to provide them with any meaningful solutions?

    • jvc 2014/03/31 at 9:27 pm

      I commented here on Cardinal Dolan’s “Bravo”remark.” And if as a vowed religious who a vocation to be an “agent of communion” I do not publicly correct bishops, that does not mean that I do not foresee instances in which others, or perhaps even myself may have to do so.

      I oppose the state of the Church, like St. Francis did in a time in which it was in need of great reform.

      The gospel is the meaningful solution and that requires we first of all respect the order Christ established.

      You know, I think you might have more comments in this thread than anyone else and you still have not addressed any of my arguments. Do you actually have a problem with my principles?

  19. Patrick Wells, Jesus Christ just isn’t big enough to take care of his own Church. I am so glad we have men like you to pick up the slack from the Holy Spirit. He is always falling down on the job.

    • I guess the real problem is criticism period eh? Jesus Christ does indeed run the ENTIRE church down to the individual baptized person. He just doesn’t stop at the local ordinary, or the Curia in Rome. So if its morally wrong to criticize the Pope then its morally wrong to criticize the local ordinary. If its morally wrong to criticize the bishop then the same for the parish priest. If its morally wrong to criticize the parish priest then its also morally wrong to criticize the Husband and Father of a Catholic family. If its wrong to criticize ANOTHER PERSON’S bishop or parish priest then its just as wrong to criticize another person’s husband or father. Moreover the Sacraments and graces provided by the Holy Spirit to everyone in the Church are sufficient unto their role and station.

      “Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it. In vain you rise before the light: rise not till ye have rested: O ye that eat the bread of sorrow.”

      So really everything is totally squared away already at all levels: Diocese, parishes, marriages, etc. There is no need to concern ourselves with much less criticize outside of ourselves. After all if His grace is sufficient for all things then ALL our diocese, parishes, and families must be exactly where they are meant to be. Thanks for reminding me! It was sitting there the whole time in Psalm 127. 🙂

    • Never mind all that talk i previously stated about leadership, responsibility, and accountability. Apparently its not needed or expected. Good news for all.

  20. I did my best to read the whole thing. I am a Catholic of largely traditional bent and trained as a biochemist. The reason I give the background is that when I look at a statement I do dissect it a little bit. So when someone say an attack on a bishop is an attack on Christ… this is what comes to mind.

    A) This statement as given implies an almost reciprocal union
    1) act directed toward a bishop are ultimately directed toward Christ
    2) If the union is reciprocal, acts of the bishop would be acts of Christ
    3) This would be true in sacramental sense, and in that Christ governs

    B) The problem arises in that if the bishops actions of governance are of Christ, then his bad acts and failures would have to be of Christ as well
    1) Surely this must not be because we cannot append the responsibility for a man’s sins to the sinless Christ, thought he did take on the punishment for them.
    2) If only some of the Bishop’s acts are the acts of Christ, what is the dividing line?
    3) Does a similar standard for what is Christ? and what is bishop? apply only to act toward the bishop and not act of the bishop? If so, why only in one direction.
    4) If we rightly admit that some acts a bishop commits are not of Christ, then it does not follow that denouncing these acts are an attack on Christ, for the acts are not Christ’s.
    5) So how, mechanistically ( for my science brain wishes to see the structure of it), does an attack on a bishop for errors in the execution of his office constitute an attack on Christ without simultaneously admitting that if the Office and Christ are inextricably linked and that Christ be somehow implicated in the error.
    6) The inability to explain these matters would lead me to the conclusion that the proposition that public criticism of bishops is mockery of Christ, is not a wholly sound assertion.

    C) Doctrine. Is there an exact point of Canon Law that states that criticizing bishops is a sin or that it is actually criticizing Christ. Failing this, I think the point devolves to opinion….not a frivolous one, nor even a bad one…..but one without direct binding force.

    D) On Prudential Correction….. I believe many people have gone through proper channels in criticism ( letters to Bishops, to Rome etc) and believe it could be honestly stated that results are often lacking. Silence. Inaction. Many people ended up SSPX ( I am not presently such) I think not by rushing to judgement… but by being scandalized right out of normal communion with the Church. In a very real sense, sometimes the proper channels just fail.

    E) Public Public error should be publicly corrected. The Laity cannot exercise juridical power of the episcopacy, but a public error should be publicly described as an error. It is not the case of revealing hidden faults I think.

    • Christian A Meadows @ 2014/03/31 at 9:38 pm

      After having read your comment thoroughly, it is clear you either did not read the entire post or somehow inadvertently skipped over the part headed “fraternal correction.” I will leave your comment up, because it represents a fundamental problem that occurs frequently.

      The conformity of a sacred person to Christ in Holy Orders is not a matter of personal holiness (though such persons are obliged by their consecration to greater fidelity and to personally conform to the consecration). If the contrary were true sinful priests would not be real priests. But that is heresy formally condemned by the Church. Priests and bishops represent Christ in their being by virtue of the indelible sacramental character, which should lead them to actions that are signs of this, but their bad actions do not mean that they no longer represent Christ. Certainly, though, their personal sins do not represent Christ.

      My point about God being present in the particulars and permitting even sin, that he is in no way responsible for, in order to bring about a greater good, was not about the way in which bishops represent Christ. It was about divine providence and the realization that God is provident, not only at the beginning of creation and at the end of time, but at each moment an in all things. What I wanted to show was that we should do all we legitimately can in order to work for the salvation of souls, but what is beyond our control, or against the order that Christ has established must not be done, even if we think it is for a good purpose in service of the Church. At such moments our trust is in Christ and He remains present in the Church where there is Peter and the successors of the Apostles.

      • I hate to be repetitive, but I am not questioning whether, sinful priests are conformed to Christ, whether we should treat them with reverence, whether fraternal correction should be done in charity, or whether God can bring good out of evil.. The answer for all of these is in the affirmative

        “but their bad actions do not mean that they no longer represent Christ. Certainly, though, their personal sins do not represent Christ.”

        They represent Christ… their actions do not.. Soooooooo………

        To me the question still remains, If I denounce their bad actions, which do not represent Christ, how can this denunciation of things which you admit to do not represent Christ be interpreted as a denunciation of Christ, who is NOT (as per your words) REPRESENTED in the action. The scientific part of my brain recoils at the apparent disconnect, and mark that I have said apparent, hoping for some elucidation. HOW does denouncing an action not of Christ attack Christ? Do you hold that a criticism of an action is inherently a criticism of the person performing it? Expound upon how actions do or do not relate to a person, and under which circumstances or by what mechanisms or logical premises, the action and person are tied or not tied. (And as a quick logical check, would the invocation of these premises or mechanism allow for other problematic claims to be made on the same premises.)

        God’s providence will indeed bring good out of even the worst evils. Just let us denounce the evil actions of bishops…not as being a lack of God’s providence… but as being simply evils…and to be named as such…whether committed by lay people, or priests, or bishops, or even a pope. God permits abortion of course, and brings good out of it somehow, and is of course not responsible…..but we still denounce it. Why, by what logic or means, does the involvement of a consecrated person alter the legitimacy of criticism. Again if Christ acts not in the sin, then how is Christ hurt by critique of the sin?

        I apologize if I was not sufficiently precise in my last post… of if I am missing an obvious point…. but I think there is still a logical flaw here. and I think I am asking for further clarification in good faith. It may be that I am thinking too scientifically… but proofs and expositions should be done in serial outline form, like an equation, conclusions and premises clearly stated, following upon one another, and if possible objections explored.

        Yes, I realize this form takes much time, and I cannot demand that it be given. However, if time to do it the arduous and meticulous way cannot be invested (possibly for quite legitimate reasons), it still undermines the strength of the argument.

  21. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

    Let us hope the Voris’ of the world are converted to many St. Pauls….and that the antagonistic commenters try to understand the articulate article Father Angelo cared to post for us.

  22. So will you remain silent when they attempt to change the doctrine of the Church at the Synod in October? I remember the deafening silence of the bishops over the Sciavo case for which there was no excuse. The whole crisis is episcopal and the papacy is implicated in this as it has nomination rights over bishops.

  23. Much of the Recognise the Pope but Resist his authority behavior can be attributed to the Rise of the Online Trad Machine which has influenced so many soi disant traditionalists (SDTs) in such a negative way.

    But, this is noting new. The Jansenists had a similar effect on other Catholics during an earlier ecclesiastical epoch (H/T Mr. McElhinney)


    By what mental machinations can the SDTs escape this Infallible Teaching from Vatican 1 ?

    Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.

    It seems the key to avoid the consequences of the Keys (16:19) is to be found in the principles and praxis of Mons. Lefebvre who cultivated the cunning, true obedience to Tradition is disobedience to modernist Rome.

    I have read this eisegesis of that Infallible Teaching many times; True obedience is disobedience.

    It really does appear to be that easy to separate men from full communion with the Catholic Church Jesus established; A slogan suffices.

    An infallible teaching of the Catholic Church can be sloughed-off by many SDTs because that is what Mons Lefebvre did and he, they falsely claim, is a latter day Saint Athanasius.

    It is all quite startling to see putative experts reveal what is in their hearts and to see who it is they follow – and it is not the Vicar of Christ.

    But like those who were negatively influenced by the Jansenists, they will not formally leave the Church; they remain to do their level best to do what they think is right; and what they think is right – disobedience and resisting the authority of modern Popes -is eerily reminiscent of the action of a Vietnam War General who said he had to destroy the town of
    Ben Tre to save it.

  24. @bornacatholic

    While there are those who have abandoned their Bishops and pastors and follow after those who have received their holy orders illegally, what I see is a lot of complaining. Disobedience would imply that they are either actively breaking a rule lawfully commanded or that they are neglecting to do something that they are commanded to do.

    @Christiaan A Meadows

    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.

    Here is a link to the section of canon law so I don’t get accused of getting this from an unsavory source:

    Canon law does give the faithful the right to express their opinion and make known their opinion to everyone else as well. Where there is need for improvement is expressing those opinions with reverence towards the office people respect and their dignity.

    It is not surprising that some of the faithful have difficulty doing that, when they have so many bad examples to follow of contempt, insolence and hostility.

    • Thanks for that quote, Noah.

      It would be nice if the bishops would own their mistakes and those who act otherwise act contrary to the unity and good of the Church would do likewise. Really would should not allow ourselves to blame our faults on other people or give each other reasons to make excuses.

      We are all miserable sinners and are in need of mercy. God will judge those in authority with greater severity.

  25. Father Angelo to:

    “Shawn @2014/03/31 at 4:10 pm:

    You are welcome. I have a bad habit of writing posts that are too long. I will put another version of this one together. I have an idea of how to condense it nicely. Thanks.”

    You can’t be serious! Really….you can’t see that his comment was backhanded? This ‘guy’ has a young male crossdresser wearing a skull on his black shirt for an icon!! Anyone can use WordPress to link into other blogs and change the icon through Gravitar to make it seem that its their own.

    The negative comments for the most part have been disengenious at best. The modus operandi is to attack with irrational thoughts, belittle/degrade, pshishs for arguments, and generally does not stay on topic. If he is outwitted he leaves to come back under a new username. WordPress allows a person to have numerous blog sites, as well as Google+ and Facebook.

    So I read your rules at the end of a beautifully written post; (to shorten it would be an injustice), and instead of following through with the rules you offer humble remarks and compliments instead to the perpetrators?
    I had truly anticipated a breath of fresh air on MaryVictrix.

  26. Your welcome Father.

    I agree we should not look for excuses for ourselves. If we can find a way to excuse our neighbor though we will be better for it

    “When you hear anyone spoken ill of, make the accusation doubtful if you can do so justly. If you cannot, excuse the intention of the accused party. If that cannot be done, express sympathy for him [and] change the subject of the conversation” St Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life pg 205

    Truly an abundance of mercy there will be for someone who can be kind and patient with both the clerics and the laity.

    • Noah,

      I should also point out that canon 212 does not and cannot ascribe to the faithful who do are not part of the hierarchy the teaching authority of the hierarchy, so that also colors what is and is not foreseen by canon law.

  27. I agree completely with your post, so, no, I don’t have any problem with the principles you’ve outlined in this post.

    I have a problem with you. I find you to be completely insincere and disingenuous.

    • jvc,

      I am sorry to hear that, very much so. If something happens to change your mind you will be more than welcome to comment here again. Even if all you want to do is comment on what I actually say, whether you agree or disagree that is fine too. But no more of this.

      And please do not anyone jump all over jvc. He has said his piece.

  28. Since there are no rules in place for this thread….and since I know you will be just as forgiving and kind to me as any other on this thread….

    jvc….you realize that the words ‘disingenuous’ and ‘insincere’ are synonyms. Oh, synonym: words that have similar meaning…(just in case you didn’t know).
    I would like for jvc to back up his judgement of you with facts based on any one of your posts….
    jvc…you can sift through several years worth of posts, if it so moves you, and I doubt you will find one where Father Angelo lies!

    • Marie,

      There are rules: my rules as I choose to apply them.

      Do. Not. Do. That. Again.

      Knowing me, I am likely to put the screws to those who support me before I do it to those who don’t. Just the way it is.

      Do not comment on this, Marie.

  29. Thanks Father,

    I agree that a layman cannot usurp the teaching authority of the hierarchy. Canon 211 grants from what I see a tremendous flexibility to spread the Catholic faith, which by extension would mean to me to teach it.

    “Can. 211 All the Christian faithful have the duty and right to work so that the divine message of salvation more and more reaches all people in every age and in every land.”

    • This is not under dispute Noah. All I am saying is that the canons do not make the lay faithful the policemen of the bishops. Such is neither stated or implied in the canons.

    • Noah @ 2014/04/01 at 4:11 pm:

      Not necessarily. To treat a bishop as such, means respecting his office and not attacking his person. But more broadly one must consider the way in which the culture of criticism affects the way people view the Church and the priesthood. I think the guidelines Diane has offered are very good. It seems to me that the current culture makes a virtue out of criticizing bishops, regardless of who it is that is doing the criticism or what is to be gained by it or how it is done. At the same time it seems that little or no consideration is given by the same persons to the liabilities of such a culture in respect to the magisterium and the way such a culture conveys a confused ecclesiology and undermines ecclesiality.

  30. Many disagreements are the result of different underlying assumptions that don’t get discussed.

    This discussion – not just here, but everywhere I see it, we have not really discussed or agreed on what is considered an “attack” on bishops.

    The title of this post was sufficient for me to grasp that Father was not saying bishops cannot be fraternally corrected by lay people. It doesn’t even say their words or actions can’t undergo respectful critical analysis.

    I could be wrong, but it seems we need to better define “attack.”

  31. I am pretty sure I read the whole thing, though I was having problems with my scroll bar at times that made the text jump around a bit. There is a page in the Pieta prayer book about criticism of priests and it is reprinted here on this website near the top. http://prayerbook.com/Prayers/Priests/priests.htm

    It changed the way I think about things for sure.

    In Christ,

  32. @Diane,

    Father has raised the point of policing alongside attacking, policing does not imply that people are necessarily attacking so much as a belief that they are defending or upholding the law.

  33. Delete this one as well, if you I will merely post the exchange to my FB and let the masses decide.

    If the matter had been clearly articulated in your post, it would have been simple to cut an paste the proof. I replied because reply did not address my question. I went out of my way to say that I might to say the at I was still seeking further clarification and trying to narrow the question as good debate should.

    [comment deleted: Christian, you just did not read the post.]
    A patently false statement which you cannot possibly prove. ( and smacking of Shea-esque rubbish to boot – the avoidance of a question with smug unsubstantiated assertions)
    Nor does it substitute for a response.

    I am partially scandalized that other Catholics, even priests, whom I approach with questions… generally lack the answer, will not engage in civil and even-tempered back and forth debate….( i do not mean one-ups-manships but along the lines of …. Christiaan I think you might be mistaken in your 3rd premise… or my 2nd premise is sound as you may see, here is how you misunderstand it)….and having ducked the question then resort to smug assertions

    Disappointing! by way of bad form and insufficient rigorousness… Censorship, while the prerogative of any blogger, is not a substitute for robust debate.

    Have not read the article….rubbish indeed! You have not shown where the article answers my question. If my question did not seem to conflict the article, it would have been easier and displayed more charity to say Christiaan, I did not say that denouncing a bishops failing were an attack on Christ…. I said…………

    See how many avenues i give in a counter post for the blogger to address my questions, even hints possible flaws in my questions. I know not everyone is a scientist or for that matter need be…. but the quality of public debate and logic is really starting to rather depress me.

  34. Hmm I thought you had deleted my longer reply post. You seem not to have. I apologize to you Father. My response above predicated on the loss of the longer post, is unwarranted. Again I apologize. I have jumped to conclusions. You of course free to delete the above… or to leave it up to show my foolishness publicly

  35. One way to think about this differently is to act as though you truly respect your Bishop (especially if you don’t) and then you may be surprised to discover that your thoughts about him are changed; that is, kneel and kiss his ring publicly before ever criticising him publicly.

    Once you do that, you may discover your complaints about him dissipating and your prayers about him increasing.

    One does not always have to think good thoughts before acting rightly whereas acting rightly can be the catalyst for improved Christian Catholic thoughts and ideas.

  36. Father,

    Your expression, “culture of criticism” is a good one. I’ve labored to find a way to express this problem. It is so contrary to virtues as taught by the saints. With regards to communication, I’ve often explained it by saying vice is the new “virtue,” and the virtues are the new “vice.”

    When we read the saints on the virtues, we find that they placed an emphasis on suffering through the imperfections and faults of others. They also emphasized that we ought to go out of our way to attribute a neighbor’s faults to things more benign (this is how we avoid rash judgment – CCC 2477).

    Today, people have elevated the practice of calling others out as something bold and heroic when it is actually contrary to holiness.

    I’ve often said that I think what is allowing the culture of criticism and the shock-jockness of reporting style to enter Catholic circles, is the vacuum of knowledge and understanding of the virtues. People might read about them, but society does not support it. So, we end up following the ways of the world in this regard.

    I recall a time when even journalists and news anchors were careful not to cross a particular line because there would have been a collective gasp, and probably consequences. But, the late 60’s and 70’s ushered in a rebellious age where all the usual rules were bucked.

    What we really need is for more people to talk about the virtues, and about holy practices in speech, and what the saints taught about this.

    That is why I proposed to my fellow board members at the Call to Holiness in Detroit that we focus on the virtues and the pursuit of holiness at our next conference. I’m happy to say the idea was well received and on September 13, 2014 we are presenting the theme: “Is Sainthood Possible Today.”

    The bottom line is that people’s understanding of the faith is growing in contrast to where it was in the 80’s and 90’s, but it is like an off-balance washing machine because of the lack of practical understanding and application of the virtues.

  37. A followup to what I just wrote…

    People have elevated St. Nicholas punching Arias, and St. Jerome’s irascible temperament to “virtues.” I suspect St. Nicholas would not recommend punching heretics, and if St. Jerome wanted us to imitate anything about him, it would be his love for Sacred Scripture.

    Some of the new “virtues” include:

    – Rudeness
    – boasting and bragging
    – abrasiveness
    – short-temperedness
    – self-righteousness
    – contempt (which belongs to hatred)
    – mocking others
    – use of insulting labels (“i.e., condescending use of “Church of Nice”, “Dolanites” “neo [fill-in-the-blank]”
    – provocative language and sexual references

    That last one has shocked me, where Catholics think it is okay to use words like orgasm in reference to something other than what it is intended; or words like “whoring.” Words like this can conjure up lewd imagery in the minds of others. It is impure to use them, IMHO. What is more disturbing is that it is increasing in popularity. We have so many other words to choose that this is just so not necessary.

    We also name names more than is necessary, me included. We can talk about general principles and problems without calling anyone out. People will figure it out. As long as I’ve been at my parish the priests have always creatively figured out how to let people know when they did not approve of something that was going around, and they never needed to mention a name or group. This is a very good exercise of charity.

    That’s just a few I can think of off the top of my head. Some of the most popular figures on the Catholic internet are praised for many of those traits I list. They think it is an edgy “style,” when these things are actually contrary to virtue and holiness. In that sense, they are contrary to the Gospel itself.

    Of course, one of the primary fruits of these things is quarreling and the building of factions. A rude reaction to something will beget more rude reactions.

    • Hmmm, you seemed to have left out on your list of insulting labels “bed-wetting butt-hurt reactionary” that a certain blogger likes to commonly use (among a host of other despicable insults). I’m sure it was just an oversight on your part. lol

  38. Pingback: A Clarification About “Attacking” Bishops | Mary Victrix

  39. Thank you, frangelo, for your extensive and thoughtful post.

    It brought to mind a quote from a certain encyclical by Pope Leo XIII on christian citizenship:

    “Subjects should be admonished not rashly to judge their prelates, even if they chance to see them acting in a blameworthy manner, lest, justly reproving what is wrong, they be led by pride into greater wrong. They are to be warned against the danger of setting themselves up in audacious opposition to the superiors whose shortcomings they may notice. Should, therefore, the superiors really have committed grievous sins, their inferiors, penetrated with the fear of God, ought not to refuse them respectful submission. The actions of superiors should not be smitten by the sword of the word, even when they are rightly judged to have deserved censure.” (Sapientiae Christianae 37.)


    • What a wonderful quotation. This pretty much settles things for me in a permanent fashion. Thank you for posting it.

  40. Good post —- the comments got my head spinning, however. Oy. I personally find ALL public bashing (whether bishop, politician, etc) to be a tough pill to swallow. I find it to be a form of slander. I realize that when someone is a public figure and scandalizing others, we must have a way to clear it up ‘publicly’ as well. As for bishops who are sadly wayward, are we not to address them privately? Then with two or three present? The difficult part comes that even after one has done that, then what? I guess you start going up the ‘chain of command’ and discussing the serious issue.

    I feel Voris has his heart in the right place. Because of that, I continue to listen to his Vortex episodes. I do feel that if he can soften his rough edges and be more discerning as to what and how he says things, he’d be a very useful cog in the wheel! But the bashing part has been VERY disturbing and initially I found myself just walking away angry all the time. I am glad he drew the line at the Pope and I think he had to draw it there in order to make sure he wasn’t thought of as schismatic in any way. But, even where he drew that line, he still made a point to say that one shouldn’t PUBLICLY bash the Pope — so the implication is that you should privately do so via perhaps flooding His Holiness with letters. I don’t know …. “Who are we to start telling His Holiness how it ought to be??”

    This instant electronic age has thrown us into the great unknown in many ways. I’m sure people have had issues with bishops for the last 2000 years. I’m sure there has been corruption in the ranks for those same 2000 years — starting with Judas. But now we KNOW about ALL OF IT instead of some of it. We can talk about it with total strangers via yahoo groups and comment sections. I go back to that famous phrase, “Just because we can does not mean that we should.”

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