The word “attack” in the title to my previous post “Why Those Who Publically Attack Bishops Are Wrong,” is not a synonym for “criticize.” I take this opportunity to clarify my meaning here in a separate post where it won’t get lost in the comments. I also intend here to deal with certain other issues raised in the comments.
I thought it would be clear from the section on “Fraternal Correction” that I was distinguishing between “attacking” and “criticizing.” I wrote the following:
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.
By attack I meant either the disrespect of a bishop’s office or his person: the office, because it proceeds from a sacrament by which he is conformed in his being to Christ the Head of the Church; the person, because good or bad, he acts in the person of Christ. He is a priest forever.
I suppose I intuitively refrained from distinguishing this sharply from criticism because I believe there is a bit of overlap. Nevertheless, it is an essential distinction and I should have offered more of an explanation. Criticism, that is, the public correction of errors or bad behavior of bishops, is in order at times when there is scandal, particularly when it proceeds from a failure to teach and preserve the faith.
I say there is a bit of overlap between criticizing bishops and attacking them simply because the magisterium has a mandate from Christ to teach and govern and those who do not belong to the magisterium do not. Sometimes even criticizing the bishops seems to be inappropriate.
On commenter pointed to canon 212.3 of the Code of Canon Law as a permission slip to criticize the bishops. It reads:
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.
First of all, this section says nothing about the public criticism of bishops. Furthermore, it is a highly qualified statement. The faithful have the right and duty to express their opinion according “to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess.” Keep in mind that the law is objective, not subjective. It is not simply that I think I am qualified to speak on the matter that I have a right to do so. Furthermore, if one who is qualified is going to deliver his opinion to the Church it should done “without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”
It would seem to me that if one directs criticism toward a bishop without the appropriate knowledge, competence, and prestige it would not be respectful, even if otherwise it did not altogether seem to be disrespectful. I suppose it would be inappropriate to call this an “attack,” but neither would it be objectively respectful toward the sacred office of the bishop.
While this scenario might not seem much to worry about, it suggests a larger picture that is more troubling, especially as it relates to the actual situation in the present.
First of all, and most obviously, certain prominent or well-known persons, especially on the internet, on a regular basis engage in the most disrespectful form of addressing what they perceive to be the sins and errors of specific bishops whom they name, sometimes in the most reviling way. That is the center stage of this situation. It is the obvious reason as to why I have written on this subject. The immediate effect of this has been to create an arena of revilement in the comment sections on blogs, in which, under the cover of the internet, Catholics may behave psychologically like a mob beneath the guillotine. If this behavior seems extreme, it has also had the effect of making a whole culture of criticism seem wholly appropriate.
What happens then is that it is generally assumed among orthtodox/traditional Catholics that we are all policemen of the bishops, because we are the remnant Church militant in the midst of the greatest crisis within the Church since the Arian heresy. All we need to do is make sure we don’t call the bishop names and we are deputized to clean up the Church.
The problem with this is that, contrary to canon 212.3, this does undermine the “integrity of faith and morals” and it is not to the “common advantage of persons.” First, this is because the faithful cease to treat members of the hierarchy as the anointed of the Lord, and secondly, because the only Church that exists by the providence of God is the one built on the Apostles.
Catholics en masse cannot target bishops on a regular basis in the public without undermining Church unity. It is bad ecclesiology and it leads to a very tenuous ecclesiality. In other words, this behavior proceeds from a poor understanding of the Church as it was established by Christ and it leads to an ambiguous attachment to and rationalized detachment from our communion with the Church.
There is no question that the episcopacy and presbytery bears a most heavy burden of responsibility in this matter, but the old cliché is true: two wrongs don’t make a right.
In my previous post, I spoke of divine providence and the confidence we ought to have to do as much as we can in the service of the Church as well as respect the limits of what we are permitted to do, also in the service of the Church. The Church belongs to Christ. He has more control over history than we do. Our faith and our hope must be supernatural, not just in reference to the articles of the creed but also in practice where the historical circumstances are uncertain and out of our control.
I suggest reading the comments ( here, here and here) of Diane Korzeniewski, who blogs at Te Deum Laudamus, and has much good to say on this topic. Diane has given me much to reflect upon. I will try to ratchet back my own rhetoric in the interests of creating the conditions for unity.
I have enabled nested comments so you can reply directly to specific persons. Please behave yourselves.