A Clarification About “Attacking” Bishops

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.


30 thoughts on “A Clarification About “Attacking” Bishops

  1. “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.”

    I think that pretty much says it. We need to ask ourselves why we feel the need to publicly criticize a duly ordained bishop of the United States. What are we really trying to prove? Are we just trying to show how righteous and holy we are, so much so that we stand in judgment of those placed in positions of authority by the Holy Spirit?

    When we criticize a bishop, do we know all the facts of the situation? Do we know the motivation behind the words and actions of the bishop? Remember the Hitchcock movie,”I Confess.” Montgomery Clift played a priest who heard the confession of a murderer. The murderer then tried to frame the priest to get suspicision off of himself. Because of the seal of confession, Montgomery Clift could not point out the real murderer, and made the decision to take the fall for the murderer. The priest was castigated and condemned by everyone.

    Last year Cardinal Dolan was condemned by the Catholic blogosphere because he allowed Joseph Biden to receive communion at St. Patrick’s. What no one ever talks about is that after Mass, Biden and the Cardinal went to “coffee” together for a private conversation. Joseph Biden has not presented himself for communion since that time. Cardinal Dolan preferred not to make a public spectacle. He handled the matter with dignity, compassion and mercy. But no one ever points that out.

    Michael Voris recently raked Cardinal Dolan over the coals for his “bravo” comment. Voris said that Cardinal Dolan should be saying “bravo” to the men and women in the Courage ministry for all they do to help homosexuals. The fact is, Cardinal Dolan is on the national board of Courage and has spoken and written about them many times. Voris was in such a hurry to condemn the Cardinal that he could not find the time to learn the real facts. He ended up actually slandering Cardinal Dolan, and as of right now, I have not seen any apology forthcoming. In the meantime, many buy into Voris’ statements without checking the truth of them, and the church becomes even more divided, putting more souls into potential jeopardy.

    Far too many Catholics are quick to condemn at the slightest slip of a bishop. What if Our Lord treated us that way? None of us would make it.

    Voris always says that his motivation in what he does is to save souls. (I, for one, believes he is actually putting many souls at risk.) That should be the motivation for all of us. We should always give things time, wait for all the facts to come out. We have the wonderful tool of the Internet to look up background information. Our first concern should always be for the soul of the person we feel is in error, not to just score points and show how good we are.

    I guess it really comes down to love. Do we truly love our neighbor? I would have to say that I see very little love of neighbor among Catholics on the Internet.

  2. Father – this is a great post (and not because of the mention [thanks]). You really refined the discussion. I have some thoughts, which I will post on my own blog in a day or two. I was unable to comment earlier and 4:30 comes pretty early for another work day.

    One thing I would like to point out, from experience, is that you will get very few comments with this approach of not tying bad habits to individuals. However, when we use names, what we get in the com-boxes are largely people who want to defend someone they feel is being attacked. While there might be a thoughtful comment or two, most of the energy is spent with people pitching barbs and jabs back at each other.

    Unfortunately, posts of this nature don’t get shared as well as those that mention names and use colorful expressions. Concupiscence rears it’s head in various subtle forms.

    More later. It’s time to do Vespers, Compline, a little spiritual reading, and off to bed.

  3. Since this is not my blog, I cannot tell people what to do. However, when I see an author of a blog carefully avoiding names, I follow suit and do not mention names. In fact, I make it a point, in any blogpost I make of this nature, to inform people that their comments will be accepted as long as they don’t mention names (I moderate when I do receive comments and not long ago, I shut down comments completely).

    The reason is simple. The poster, in avoiding the use of names and organizations, is trying to talk about the habits and not about the people engaging in them. Commenters who don’t recognize that, cause the com-box to descend into the very chaos that the poster was trying to avoid.

    It’s just a thought.

    • Well I went to Diane’s blog as linked to by Fr. above and found this:
      “…The only thing left to do with people afflicted with raising such things to the level of doctrines is to give them hemorrhoid creme so they can loosen up.”


    • Stoney – At my blog and in com boxes around the web, you wil find all kinds of times when I used names to discuss something someone said in the fashion of a critical analysis. You will also find many times when I use colorful expressions such as the one about hemorrhoid creme for those who raise disciplines to the level of a doctrine (in the case I was discussing, someone complaining about Pope Francis going to confession face-to-face).

      I can tell you that most times when I done critical analysis using someone’s name, there has been some level of regret, often because I see robust discussion get lost in the defenses and attacks of the people named. Other names then get thrown in the mixed.

      I can also tell you that when I let go of my own self-discipline and used a colorful expression such as the one you found, I often regret that too.

      So, feel free to keep sifting through my blogs and comments around the web to find things by which to prove I don’t always take my own advice. All it proves is that it is very easy to say whatever we want, rather than using care and creativity to strip what we say of lightning rods that will derail sound discussion.

      With that said, if you are the same Stoney I’ve encountered elsewhere on the web, along with your comments in the last two posts – do you ever contribute anything to discussions beyond needling people?

  4. Diane, I don’t know if your comments are a subtle or not so subtle dig at me, but if you have something to say, I wish you would just say it instead of beating around the bush.

    If you have a problem with what I wrote other than the fact that I mentioned names, go ahead and say it. Does it bother you that I defended Cardinal Dolan? And if so, why?

    • Mary Griffin on April 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm said:
      I think that pretty much says it. We need to ask ourselves why we feel the need to publicly criticize a duly ordained bishop of the United States. What are we really trying to prove? Are we just trying to show how righteous and holy we are, so much so that we stand in judgment of those placed in positions of authority by the Holy Spirit?

      Well let’s take a look at some recent examples. A certain prelate down in the South WHO WILL NOT BE NAMED, was caught by the laity spending millions of $$$ extravagantly on his new house and rectory. ONLY after extensive public criticism, this bishop has decided to reconsider his decision and now perhaps sell the property. What’s disturbing is that his comments led one to believe he would have just ignored the criticism if it weren’t for the pope’s pleading for a poor Church. Say what?

      Another case, a group of bishops WHO WILL NOT BE NAMED, decided to use the Eucharist in a cheap political stunt down on the border yesterday to bring awareness of immigration reform (a.k.a. amnesty). The criticisms of these actions has been swift, loud and clear. Its bad enough our bishops helped to elect TWICE the most destructive president in history, but now they want to completely destroy our country, all in the name of a distorted social justice gospel. The laity would be derelict to stand by and let this happen.

      And these are events that just happened in the last week!

    • Mary – It wasn’t meant as a dig at you; it was meant to hopefully get commenters to think about a new way of responding to posts of this nature.

      There are times when it is justified and even good to critique something written or said by another, by name, with a link so people can read or see something in context. However, if we want to discuss a truly inflammatory issue – that is, something which gets emotions rolling, it can be even more beneficial to remove names and simply talk about it devoid of triggers.

      You have every right to comment the way you want. Feel free to continue naming specific people you feel offend the principles Father speaks of when he does not mention names, if you feel that is the best approach to a post like this.

  5. Diane, do you have an idea how you sound? You come on to someone else’s blog and start making rules for him, telling people what they should or should not be posting. When I call you on it, you then “generously” tell me that I am free to post whatever I want. What am i suppose to do now? Thank you?

    The reason people don’t make as many comments on posts that talk in generalities without specific examples is because it sounds very technical and people’s eyes glaze over. There is tremendous competition on the internet, and if you don’t catch people’s attention right away, they will move on. Does that mean we should mention names just as a gimmick to get people to read? Absolutely not. It does mean that you have to write something that people can easily relate to or you will never get your point across.

    Father Angelo wrote this blog post as a clarification of his earlier post about criticizing bishops and specifically, the way in which Michael Voris does so, and how harmful it is to the church. That was in my mind when I wrote my comment and that is why I included names. Many thousands of people heard and are still hearing Voris’ scandalous comments about Cardinal Dolan, and I think it is a perfect example of what Father is talking about.

    I don’t agree with Stoney, but at least he answered my points. Also, Stoney followed your “rule” and did not name names. Does that make his comment okay? You, on the other hand, dismiss my comments by saying, without specifically pointing to them, that they are just reactive, and you even accuse me, again in a roundabout way, of concupiscence. Just how is that shedding light on anything? And who are you to be judging?

    If and when I make comments on your blog, Diane, I will follow your rules. If Father Angelo corrects me, I will follow his rules. But I think you should try to remember that you are not a co-author of this blog.

    • I think you need thicker skin, Mary. I didn’t tell you what to do and made that clear. I threw something out for consideration. You don’t like it, fine. As I said, feel free to comment as you wish.

    • And just to be clear, I was not making rules for Fr. Angelo. He is a big boy. I was explaining why I ask people to refrain from using names when I do not mention them in discussing certain online behaviors.

      I hope Fr. Angelo sees that I was not trying to tell him what to do. If it came across that way, I apologize. I was very tired when I posted, having just returned to work after a long medical leave (thankfully, improving now).

    • Okay, Diane, if you don’t want to take responsibility for what you said, that is your choice. But it does take away from the credibility of anything else you have to say. Your words are out there for all to see. Others can be the judge.

    • Mary said, “Okay, Diane, if you don’t want to take responsibility for what you said…”

      I have nothing to take responsibility for other than possibly not being clear that I was tossing out something for *all* commenters *to consider* whenever they see a poster not use names. Your comment sparked my initial thought, but no offense was intended, but I wanted to give other commenters an opportunity to reflect on that before chiming in.

      Whenever I have commented on people’s blogs I take notice of such things and usually follow suit.

      In general, I disagree with your overall premise that people need real life examples from current events and people in order to advance discussion. In fact, I believe it is one of the biggest root causes of so much quarreling on the internet between even faithful Catholics.

    • Further up, you said, “The reason people don’t make as many comments on posts that talk in generalities without specific examples is because it sounds very technical and people’s eyes glaze over.”

      Yes. *Some* people get bored with talking about principles and issues without bringing up names. Others truly don’t find it interesting unless there is *someone* to talk about with it. The saints had ways to letting people know of their disapproval of this or that without talking about the guilty parties. In the blogosphere, we need to start practicing that – not exclusively, but more frequently.

    • Diane, I assume you want to reach people with what you have to say. To do so, you have to do it so that people will read it. People are not going to read something that seems technical or that they can’t relate to. They need something to pull them in. If they don’t read it, you can make the best arguments in the world, but you are playing to an empty hall. The best way to illustrate a point is through examples. Ask any teacher.

      The trick is to do it without calumny, without ad hominen attacks. I don’t like it when people attack Voris over his hair or some such thing. That is small and mean. (Are you going to rebuke me for bringing up a name?) We should never bring up personal matters. The key is to stick to the real issues, and to try, as much as possible to unite people. I think we always need to ask ourselves what our true motive is. Is it to bring light to ourselves and to others? Or is it just to tear others down to make ourselves look good? Often when I write on my blog, things become much clearer to me, and my end product is often not what I started out with. I am often surprised at the conclusions that I come to when I am finally done.

      You seem to want to be a purist, Diane, trying to hold yourself above the fray. Yet you feel no compunction about making subtle remarks about others as you have done with me.

      You and I are basically in agreement about this issue, but you are really undermining what you have to say.

    • One other thing, Diane. You write, ” saints had ways to letting people know of their disapproval of this or that without talking about the guilty parties.”

      Really? Maybe St. Paul needed your advice when he wrote about those who deserted him and mentioned names: II Timothy 4:9-10:

      “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.”

  6. Now that I’ve had some sleep, I’ll offer a few comments before heading out to work for the day.

    First, I know it was once taught that there is virtue in not speaking up every time we are offended with something; but to truly be reserved as to when we speak up. The web has made visible to us not just the words of our own bishop (which use to come mostly through printed sources, and very periodically); but today we get the words of most any bishop not our own, in a nanosecond with the internet. I’ve seen some excellent analysis from certain authors which was of a critical nature concerning some words or actions of bishops. What gives weight to their words is not just the delicate and respectful way it was done, but the fact that they rarely critique bishops. They could comment every day on something, but they refrain.

    Secondly, there are things a bishop says that are so clearly contrary to what the Church has constantly taught that it truly presents a danger to the faith. When people from around the world get the words of a bishop through the internet of this nature, we surely have a right to respond. There’s much discussion about divorced & re-married, and Holy Communion – much of which is respectful and thoughtful. I’ve seen some remarks that are unbecoming of a Catholic.

    Many of the attacks I see are things that fall into the realm of prudential judgments, disciplines, and other things where there are a range of legitimate options permitted by the Church. I go to a parish where the priest opts not to have us make a sign of peace (yes, it is an option). I have no cause to be critical of another priest at another parish who uses the option by asking people to do this. Can I discuss the general practice of whether it is good to have this option in the liturgy, at the point that it comes? Do I need to castigate anyone to discuss it? No.

    Likewise, I know an archbishop who has issued public notifications to avoid a major dissent-fest at a large local venue. In fact, a whole web page was set up explaining why it should be avoided. Priests were warned not to participate and those who did faced disciplinary measures (and contrary to popular belief, we are not entitled to know what happened as these are internal matters). However, there have been smaller events of a similar nature where the same archbishop chose a path of silence. This is a prudential judgment. We have a right to make known to him our concerns. Some peacefully protested the event, which is their right, as well. Some publicly accused the archbishop of being a coward (which really is a rash judgment since it takes reading a soul to *know* that). Yet, I can’t reconcile that with his public positions on other things. Therefore, I have made allowances that (A) The event was small enough, he was concerned that saying something might draw more interest and curiosity and (B) He might not want to risk pulling up wheat with the weeds. Since it was a prudential judgment, I chose not to complain publicly, but I did email my thoughts to him, offered a prayer that God would bless him with discernment, and divorced myself from any further concern over it. He is accountable before God over any souls lost, not I. I’ll be judged as to how much prayer and sacrifice I made to assist him.

    There is so much in Scripture and from the saints that encourages restraint that not only should we not attack bishops (as defined by Fr. Angelo), but even criticizing them publicly should be respectful and rare. We could use more people to to explore this area and offer it online where we can read and share.

  7. The Diocese of Palm Beach County, Florida had a Bishop, Anthony J. O’Connell, who was forced to resign when it came to light that he had sexually violated a seminarian years prior to his resignation.

    I am close friends with a Priest who told me that the day before he retired, Bishop O’Connell, faxed/called all the Priests and asked them to go to come to the Cathedral for an important announcement and during his resignation speech, the Bishop thanked the Priests for coming out to support him.

    I was livid when I heard about that malign manipulation and I asked the Priest why he didn’t correct the public record that left the impression the priests knew about and kept silent about the Bishop’s perversity when there was not one priest, not one, who had any idea about his past perversions.

    What good would it do; it would only prolong the agony and the Diocese needs to be healed is a paraphrase of his response to me.

    As Saint John Chrysostom said, silence is golden.

    Sometimes silence is golden.

    • My question, bornacatholic, is do we just turn a deaf ear to all those who are tearing our bishops apart on the internet? Do we not try to counter their arguments in some way, and show that what they are doing is divisive and injurious to the souls of the faithful? Many follow those whose main goal in life seems to be attacking the bishops. The big problem is that many of those who attack the bishops also have a veneer of piety that is very deceptive. Don’t you think we have a responsibility to speak out?

      You said you are a recovering traditionalist, as am I. I was once a strong supporter of people like Voris, et al. I have come to see how wrong they are, as have you. Do you and I, who have been on both sides of this argument, just stand idly by while these others do their destructive work? Or do we use the insight we have been given to counter it?

      It isn’t silence is golden. It is the wisdom of knowing when to speak and how to say it that is golden. For that, we need to completely submit our will to the Holy Spirit and let Him guide us. And as I stated earlier, always question our true motive.

  8. Dear Mary. I was writing about whether of not to confront Bishops publicly (even when justificed) whereas you are writing about those who attack Bishops but that seems to me not to be the topic of this thread.

    O, and I am not a recovering soi disant traditionalist; that was an ideological infection that I had that was cleared by Grace.

    • Okay. I have now read your comment about four times and I think I understand what you are saying: priests did not speak out against a bishop who had lied about them. Is that correct? I have never heard about this case so I didn’t understand your comment at first.

      I don’t think this example is quite what we are talking about either. We are not talking about the hierarchy correcting misconceptions. We are talking about whether the laity has the right to correct the bishops, and just how it should be done.

      I apologize for misunderstanding you.

      Your second statement about an “ideological infection” has me totally confused.

  9. “Only the person who becomes irate without reason, sins. Whoever becomes irate for a just reason is not guilty. Because, if ire were lacking, the science of God would not progress, judgments would not be sound, and crimes would not be repressed. Further, the person who does not become irate when he has cause to be, sins. For an unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices: it fosters negligence, and stimulates not only the wicked, but above all the good, to do wrong.”

    – St. John Chrysostom

    For if you love the Lord Jesus with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength, can you see him endure injuries and contempt and keep a quiet mind? Surely not. Carried away by a burning ardor for justice, “like a hero fighting-mad with wine,” with the resolute zeal of Phinehas, you would say with David: “My zeal consumes me because my foes forget your words;” or with the Lord: “Zeal for your house devours me.” The wine then is that burning zeal pressed from the grape-cluster of Cyprus: the love of Christ – a cup that intoxicates. Again, “our God is a consuming fire,” and when the Prophet feels inflamed with divine love he describes it as a fire sent from heaven into his bones. So when fraternal love gives you gentleness like oil, and divine love inspires you with zeal like wine, you may feel secure in your purpose to heal the wounds of the man who fell among brigands, you are equipped for the work of the good Samaritan. You may repeat, too, with the assurance of the bride: “My beloved is to me a cluster of grapes of Cyprus among the vines of En-gedi;” meaning that the fraternal love that I exercise, my zeal for righteousness, is the fruit of my beloved’s love in me.

    – St. Bernard

    • Seriously. ..
      Our Lady kept all things in her heart. She said nothing at the foot of the cross. Doesn’t this virtue of our Lady’s holy silence supercede the virtues spoken by these two great saints? They seem to contradict each other. Thank you.

  10. When anger becomes more than anger…..faith in people and in the Church can become lost. And things hidden can suddenly surface out of revenge.

  11. I appreciate this post and clarification. Much thanks.

    I don’t pay attention to Voris and Co., so I guess perhaps I don’t know how bad the issue is with (some) traditionalists.

    it would help to continue to make a distinction between the disturbed and the mere critics.of our current leadership. This post is a good start.

  12. Just a question and a few observations… Didn’t Our Lady ( or the Blessed Lord ) tell us ( the laity ) to NOT criticize the priesthood, or a priest? That if we have problems or sense scandal to bring them ( the scandalous priest ) before the Lord ( and PRAY for them ) and leave them to Him? I understand fraternal correction. I also understand that most priests are not going to take fraternal correction from a lay person anyway. It just seems that many, many bloggers are causing division and sewing the seeds of open rebellion in thier personal assessment of the upcoming synod, Cardinal Burke’s reassignment and claiming that we have a RIGHT to know what the Pope is doing and why at all times about all things. This just seems wrong to me and lacking in proper obedience to authority. Aren’t we supposed to be defending the papacy and giving the Holy Father the benefit of the doubt?

    • Cheryl…

      The conversation you are referring to is found in the little booklet called, “Pieta”.
      My memory fails me…I believe it was our Lord to a holy nun.

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