How Your Online Tone Could Send You to Hell

The before-and-after photos used by Rorate Caeli.
After the Soviet Union had Nikolai Yezhov executed,
his image was carefully purged from official photographs.

A few weeks ago, Msgr. Charles Pope wrote a blog post on his blog (which is on the Archdiocese of Washington’s website). It quickly disappeared, leading the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli to decry “the Catholic Samizdat.” If you don’t get the reference, they were comparing the Archdiocese’s decisions about what goes on its own blog to totalitarian Soviet censorship. To drive the point home, they ran these before-and-after photos, showing how the Soviet Union removed Nikolai Yezhov from official photos after they executed him. That analogy’s not just hyperbolic, it’s unhinged.

Using Msgr. Pope as a pawn to slur the bishops is particularly ironic, given Pope’s own views on the matter, and his “concerns about disunity in the Church”:

In particular my concerns center around the dismissive attitudes many have developed toward the bishops. While this attitude was once the domain, largely, of dissenters on the theological left, it has now become quite a common attitude among many theological and ecclesial conservatives as well.

I am well aware of the (often legitimate) frustrations by some Catholics that the Bishops, either individually or collectively have not always shepherded in a clearer way; a way that both disciplined dissenters and corrected liturgical abuses and also encouraged those who tried to remain faithful. I get that. These have been difficult decades for the Church and for our culture.

But frustrations should not be permitted to draw us, even subtly, toward a posture that practically speaking severs our union with the bishops. Some of the comments that routinely come in to the blog here are quite shocking in their sweeping dismissal of the bishops, even the Pope. Some of them are so strong that I cannot post them. What makes them particularly shocking is that, these days, most of the comments of this sort come from those who would define themselves as conservative Catholics. That reflects somewhat the readership of this blog (i.e. more conservative), but it is shocking to hear conservative Catholics use the language that I had always associated with dissenters back in the 1970s and 80s.

Msgr. Pope wrote that back in 2012, during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Things have only gotten worse since then. Offhand, I can point to specific instances in which I’ve read or heard Catholics (and again, apparently orthodox Catholics) refer to the bishops as “useful idiots” of the Obama Administration for their long-standing support of universal health (it’s another Stalin reference, but at least the bishops aren’t Stalin this time?); derisively refer to Cardinals by first name (e.g., mockingly referring to Cardinal Dolan as “Timmy”); and openly advocate that we just ignore Pope Francis (who gets derisively referred to as “Jorge”).

This problem is particularly acute on the Internet, where people are more prone to being both outraged and rude. The Internet Counter-Magisterium spends an incredible amount of time seeking out things by which to be scandalized and outraged (often, after only hearing one half of the story). But by no means is this just an online problem, nor is it just Traditional Catholics, nor am I myself innocent in this regard.

To put the matter bluntly, Catholics of all stripes have taken to being downright venomous towards the Magisterium when they don’t like the bishops’ position on an issue, even a prudential one. My concern is that this is becoming the norm: people speak about their spiritual fathers, the successors of the Apostles, like they would speak about politicians with which they disagreed. And while the acidic tone of politics is lamentable, it’s many times more lamentable when it’s brought into the Church.

Make no mistake: this is a moral issue.

Your opinions about (for example) Cardinal Dolan’s participation in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, or about what office Cardinal Burke should hold, and the like, make no difference [unless you happen to be Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Burke, or Pope Francis… in which case, welcome to the blog!]. What does matter, and what you’ll be accountable for at the Final Judgment, is how you voice those opinions. So let’s recall the major moral principles at play here.

I. The Sins of the Tongue
St. James the Just, traditionally believed to be the author
of the Epistle of James

James 3:1-10 has a lot to say about the sins of the tongue:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of GodFrom the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.

So if you go about rudely opining about how the bishops ought to do things, and how the Church ought to be run, you’re setting yourself up for harsh judgment for two reasons. First, because you’re making yourself out to be some sort of Christian teacher, despite having not been called to such a position by the Church. You’re asking to be judged more strictly.

But more importantly, you’re unleashing some of that hellfire that James warns against. His analogies are great: the small rudder guides the giant ship, and the small bit in the mouth can be used to guide a huge horse. So the devil can lead us astray by unholy speech, like cursing “men, who are made in the likeness of God.

Jesus Christ has an even more stark warning to us in Matthew 12:36-37, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” What else is there to say? The way that you talk trash, even if you’re just carelessly blowing off steam, could well lead to your eternal damnation. So says the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

II. The Lord’s Anointed
Guernico, Saul Attacking David (1646)

Everything in the last point applies generally to how we speak about our neighbors, but this is particularly acute when we’re talking about the pope or the bishops. That’s because, as Exodus 22:28 says, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

The Old and New Testament are filled with examples illustrating this teaching. We see several in the First Book of Samuel, while King Saul is trying to hunt down and kill David. Without a doubt, David and his men are the ones who are morally in the right. Yet David still orders his men to show restraint, because God anointed Saul as King over the nation of Israel (1 Sam. 9:15-17).

For example, King Saul unwittingly wandered into the cave in which David and his men were hiding, yet David refused to kill him, reasoning: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:6). On a separate occasion, when they find Saul sleeping, David forbids his men from killing him in these words: “Do not destroy him; for who can put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” (1 Sam. 26:9).

In speaking with or about King Saul, David is unceasingly respectful, even as Saul tries to have him killed. The second time around, David goes so far as to chastise Abner, Saul’s commander, for failing to protect his king (1 Sam. 26:15-16):

Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord. This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed.

Eventually, Saul is wounded in battle against the Philistines, and decides to take his own life (1 Sam. 31:3-4). He falls on his sword, but doesn’t die right away, and convinces one of his soldiers to finish the job (2 Sam. 1:9-10). When that soldier recounted this afterwards, David asks, “How is it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” and has the man killed (2 Sam. 1:14-16).

Edouard Moyse, The Grand Sanhedrin (1868)

What David is illustrating is the need for respect for the office, even if the man occupying the office isn’t living a holy life. It’s this principle that makes the Reformation unthinkable, no matter how rotten or wicked some members of the clergy were at the time. And we find this principle in the New Testament as well as the Old. Yesterday, I mentioned Matthew 23:1-3, but it’s worth recalling:

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

That’s respect for the office. And even though Christ, who was above the Pharisees, condemned them as “whitewashed tombs” in Matthew 23:27, we shouldn’t forget what happened in Acts 23:1-5,

And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Anani′as commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

So Paul, upon learning that the man he insulted was the high priest, takes back his harsh words — not because they were false, but because he was out of place speaking evil of the high priest in that way. If such a debt of honor is owed to the Jewish high priest, how much more to a Catholic bishop or the Vicar of Christ himself?

Beyond the Old and New Testament, we can find a bottomless well of illustrations of this principle with the Saints. Sometimes, this takes the form of their express teachings: witness, for example, St. Ignatius of Antioch or Pope Clement calling the people to greater respect and obedience of their bishops. But more often, we find this principle illustrated in the Saints’ very lives. Consider how Padre Pio was forbidden by the Holy See from publicly saying Mass or hearing confessions when they suspected (wrongly) that he faked his stigmata, or how both St. Joan of Arc and St. Mary MacKillop were invalidly excommunicated by their bishops. Indeed, not infrequently does Our Lord call the Saints to greater holiness by letting them be scourged by their own superiors. Yet how often did these Saints turn to invective, name-calling, and publicly smearing their superiors?

In other words, it’s not enough that you’re convinced that you’re right, and the bishop is wrong. Even if you are right, you don’t have permission to treat the bishops disdainfully, and more than your children have the right to treat you disrespectfully anytime you sin or make a mistake.

III. How Should We Respond, Then?

Given everything that I’ve said above, I should mention what I’m not saying. I’m not suggesting that we’re never able to criticize the bishops, or that we have to agree with everything that they say or do. Not so: David treated King Saul with respect, but he didn’t turn himself in to be unjustly killed; St. Paul treated the Jewish high priest with respect, but still defended Christianity against him. That’s an instructive model for us to follow today. I’d cite as a positive example the recent article by Edward Peters, which manages to decisively answer all of Bishop Tobin’s arguments for permitting adulterers to receive Communion, while being unceasingly respectful.

What I’m describing here is a tall order, and it’s counter-cultural. We live in a rude age in which people tear each other apart over religious and (especially) political differences. To comment on religious and political affairs in such a culture without sinning is not easy. But what I’m describing is the clear teaching of Scripture and the Church (it may be helpful to recall the Catechism’s definitions of rash judgment, detraction, and calumny), and the witness of the lives of the Saints.

After all, whoever said that sanctity was easy? Besides that, we have an alternative. If you hear something troubling, something over which you have no control, pray for those involved. Pray especially for the pope and the bishops, because they will be held to a higher standard than the rest of us (James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17). The vast majority of the time, such heartfelt prayers will accomplish a world of good more than will badmouthing those involved.


  1. “I do not think there are many among Bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish: and the reason is, that it is an affair that requires a great mind.” –John Chrysostom pray for us!

    I’m sorry Joe, but Heaven is a place with no liars therein. If they are acting in a way that corresponds to Stalinists, then one must call a spade a spade and it endangers one’s salvation to pretend they’re something else.

    Bishop Mulvey lying about Corapi taking a vow of poverty to steal his millions? Spade.

    Zurek grinding his personal axes against Fr Pavone and hurting the prolife movement in the process? Spade.

    Zigneron selectively enforcing canon law to grind his axes against Michael Voris (ironically quite possibly violating canon law to do so)? Spade.

    Dolan and his anti-Russian bigotry and leading the St Paddy’s Gay Parade? Spade.

    Wuerl and his Chekist censors? Spade.

    So many spades the USCCB is a veritible royal flush, with more jokers than a full deck should be allowed.

    If Rorate’s criticism stings it’s because they’ve landed a clean blow at a vulnerable target.

    1. You may want to rethink some of your examples here.

      It’s been pretty definitively prove that Corapi was in the wrong.

      Father Pavone himself did not characterize his bishop’s actions as you do, and that matter was brought to a successful resolution by all parties involved.

    2. Corapi was in the wrong on many things–and who in all of Christendom has ever heard of a millionaire priest!–but nevertheless Bishop Gracida confirmed it: Corapi did not take a vow of poverty.

      That some people can’t bifurcate womanizing drunkenness with an embellished military record from Mulvey maneuvering to steal his money isn’t my problem, but theirs.

      As for Fr Pavone’s charity (and indeed Msgr Pope’s), it is exceptionally saint like. Reminds of Cyprian paying his executioner and offering to tie his own blindfold.

    3. Daniel,

      You said, “I’m sorry Joe, but Heaven is a place with no liars therein. If they are acting in a way that corresponds to Stalinists, then one must call a spade a spade and it endangers one’s salvation to pretend they’re something else.

      This is wrong, for several reasons.

      First, it’s an egregious straw-man of my post. Where in the post do I advocate lying? I’m suggesting (1) that you don’t have to proclaim every fault that you find, or think you find, (2) that when you do call out faults, there are holy and unholy ways to do so, and (3) that this is of particular concern when criticizing the leaders of the Church. All of those are rudimentary Christian teachings, and I’d be surprised if you actually disagreed with them.

      What you seem to be characterizing as damnable “lying” is apparently just not proclaiming faults, or not proclaiming them in needlessly-invective language. But that “logic,”we should warn priests not to hear confessions, since they’re not allowed to go proclaiming those faults afterwards. Absurd.

      As for the bit about how we “must” call a spade a spade, no. There’s literally no reason why we “must” speak about any of the issues in the invective and unpersuasive way that you’ve done here. In fact, on the vast majority of these issues, we don’t need to be weighing in at all. Why does the word need to know your opinion or mine on these prudential matters? Who left us in charge of making these prudential judgments? Because it certainly wasn’t Our Lord. This is all the more true given that, for many of these cases, we’ve only heard part of the story (precisely because it’s not our business, and holy prelates are loathe to encourage vice by giving cause for detraction).

      On at least some of the issues you cited, I probably agree with your position. If I didn’t, I can’t imagine that this sort of childish name-calling would make me (or any serious-minded person) more likely to do so. You repeat the “Wuerl and his Chekist censors” invective, but that comparison is laughable. Am I now also a Soviet dictator for not allowing people to post whatever they want on my blog?



    4. I’m not as eloquent as you, and what I was trying to say is that the heart is deceitful above all things: if we see unscrupulous behavior and lie in our hearts and excuse it because it’s done by our friends, leaders, or heros then it won’t be a short time before the Evil One uses our moral blindness to participate in immorality that we would never do with our faculty of spiritual discernment intact.

      Not labeling fascist behavior in small things fascist because fascism’s history is immoral on a disproportionate scale of magnitude is a matter of opinion.

      Whitewashing unscrupulous behavior in one’s own heart however is a matter of the spirit.

      I’m not saying that you are doing this, only making common cause with the enemies of Rorate who do.

      Rorate has a template from which they never deviate: if it is good for rad-trads, they post it and if it is bad for ‘liberal’ Catholics they post it.

      They do not post bad things about rad-trads nor good things about liberal Catholicism.

      That said they used hyperbole to highlight outrageous behavior. You found the hyperbole outrageous, which is your right. You’ve opted for silence at ADW’s outrageous behavior which is also your right.

      One day they’ll come for you. You’ll offend the Lavender Mafia, or the womyn pryst lobby or who knows. And as your blog gets suspended or you get Shanghai’d into selling gellato with Cardinal Burke, I’ll still be here calling them spades and Chekists.

  2. And on the subject of Latin politics, the reason Burke is getting fired and getting a new job serving gellato outside of Vatican City is that he crossed the line in calling out Cardinal Kasper on marriage. Both sides have been shoring up support for their own position going into the Synod, but Burke was the only one to publicly refudiate (pardon the neologism) the other side’s argument point by point. The Holy Father was tolerant of Opening Statements but moving to Rebuttal was over the line.

    As an aside, where Burke and his camp go wrong is that they haven’t considered something akin to oikonomia that still doesn’t violate Trent. And that is considering if a sacramental marriage bond can wither and die between two living parties. Not that anyone can dissolve the bond, not even the Pope.

    The Church deliberated on that perspective twice: at Florence and at Trent. And both times they deliberately refused to rule against that practice.

    That obviously doesn’t carry the same weight as dogmatic support for the position, but it isn’t nothin’ either.

    And consider the Holy Father. A bi-rite hierarch, who wears a chotki, who used to spend Christmas Eve at St Catherine’s ROCOR cathedral in Buenos Aires, who was the first bishop of Rome ever to have the Ecumenical Patriarchate at his coronation, who mentions Orthodox praxis more times than I can count, who invited Metropolitan Hilarion to the Synod as an observer?

    Pope Francis is taking the Eastern praxis very seriously and I’m afraid that conservatives are putting all their chips on the table betting on Burke (who is still a voting member of the Synod) and might find themselves losing the hand and out of the game.

    1. In the 20th century Western high churchmen have been very fond of quoting Eastern practices out of context to support their own agendas. Two immediate examples that come to mind are the multiplicity of Eucharistic prayers since 1968 (given that for the previous 1500 years there was one) and Communion standing, both taken radically out of the Greek context in order to suit a reform program. With the matter of Communion for the divorced and [not sacramentally] re-married, the Greek praxis requires a great amount of penance, a wedding service that has no blessing (the “form” of marriage according to Byzantine theology), and a penitential spirit. While I do not believe for a minute that the Sacrament of marriage “dies”, any more than Baptism can die, I can admit that this praxis works within a particular framework, one which has not existed in the Roman Church for nearly a century and is rather unlikely to return in this pontificate or any other in my life time. A certain type of bishop has been clamoring for more accommodations for modern secular circumstances for decades and are looking for just the right legal loopholes to eventuate that goal. As someone who has participated in the Greek tradition for years, I would also say that leaning on the Byzantine praxis for the sake of importing things novel to the Roman Church is an insulting kind of orientalism.

      My own father was ex-communicated because he divorced and “re-married” shortly after the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the very fact he is unable to receive Communion is the only thing that helps him take the Church seriously: he knows that the Church holds a consistent teaching that guards something precious to the faith and that, because of how he lives, he is unable to have it. I hold a serious hope that he will reconcile before death. Should the Church admit those in adulterous affairs to Communion, my father is hardly likely to rush to Mass. He is more likely to think “So it wasn’t that serious after all.”

      While the tone of many on the orthodox Catholic blogosphere can be salty or downright nasty, these people, far from being the successors of the Reformation, are frustrated by the subversion of doctrine and pastoral care in favor of sanitizing evil things. Would someone have been out of line in the middle ages for condemning the Holy See for licensing brothels? I rather think not.

      Traditionalists have fondly quoted St Thomas More because of his defense of marriage, quite relevant to our time. But this man, who was executed by the medieval proximate of “God’s anointed”—his king—with the silence of every bishop minus one, could also be quite acerbic with his tongue and pen. He called Luther one “who does not allow the priests who take wives to be joined to any other than public strumpets” and said his followers “bespatter the most holy image of Christ crucified with the most foul excrement of their bodies destined to be burned.”

      I am not advocating the tone of some, but please hold out for the possibility that some, far from dividing the Church, are venting their righteous rage.

    2. Yes on the penetential character, and no crowning either.

      As for standing, I agree. The context of Eastern standing is to foster reverence which is facilitated in the West via kneeling.

      The NO *can be* amazing, just in practice it more often than not underwhelms. In a good liturgy, you won’t forget the Real Presence. In a bad liturgy, you have to forcibly remind yourself over and over. And what a great soundtrack does Marty Haugen provide for that kind of mental marathon. Focusing on an invisible Presence (literally not able to be seen because the tabernacle is in a broom closet, 4th floor, beside the toliet bowel cleaner–I jest but not by much) while trying to not sing the lyrics in your head to My Little Pony when Dan Schutte’s tune for the Gloria begins. Now that’s a mass for the memories.

  3. I think the article goes too far: mischaracterizes a few issues. But the example of how to do it right is a quite strongly written article that unappologetically disagrees with the bishop–but just doesn’t involve any personal attack. Moreover, no rational person can deny that there is a serious problem–even among devout Catholics–on the internet in particular. Given that, I’ll not quibble over minor disagreements.

  4. Turns out, most of what I said in this post was said better by Pope Leo XIII in §37 of Sapientiae Christianae:

    “Consequently, just as in the exercise of their episcopal authority the bishops ought to be united with the apostolic see so should the members of the clergy and the laity live in close union with their bishops. Among the prelates, indeed, one or other there may be affording scope to criticism either in regard to personal conduct or in reference to opinions by him entertained about points of doctrine; but no private person may arrogate to himself the office of judge which Christ our Lord has bestowed on that one alone whom He placed in charge of His lambs and of His sheep.

    Let every one bear in mind that most wise teaching of Gregory the Great: “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.”(37)”

    Again, that’s not saying that prelates are above criticism, but that it must be done in the right way, and while paying attention to the temptation towards arrogance that correcting one’s superiors can cause.

    1. Pope Leo XIII Sapientiae Christianae:

      Wherefore it belongs to the Pope to judge authoritatively what things the sacred oracles contain, as well as what doctrines are in harmony, and what in disagreement, with them; and also, for the same reason, to show forth what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be rejected as worthless; what it is necessary to do and what to avoid doing, in order to attain eternal salvation. For, otherwise, there would be no sure interpreter of the commands of God, nor would there be any safe guide showing man the way he should live.

      Pope Francis. Who am I to judge?

      When we flummoxed faithful have the statement of the Bishop of Rome shoved in our faces daily, what do we say? Do we quote Pope Leo XIII of, even better, Vatican One when our opponents have been taught that what the Pope says goes.

    2. That Pope Francis quote is badly stripped of all context. I’ve heard the pope criticized for saying something so juicy, something almost begging to be taken out of context in our soundbite culture. And what I think of is Matthew 7:1-5, in which Jesus does the same thing (the famous “Judge not, that you be not judged” discourse).

      If you can pit the words of Jesus against the rest of the New Testament (e.g., using Matthew 7 in such a way that it contradicts 1 Cor. 6:2-3), it should be no surprise that you can do the same with the words of His Vicars. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Be-el′zebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:24-25).



    3. Joe. Even Fr. Z. has become exasperated by those statements

      and Jesus did not say who am I to judge?

      And we also know John 7:24

      I am not looking to pick a fight and I am certainly not looking to pit a living Pope against a former Pope but our Bishop of Rome is the first to use that infamous word, gay, (and we all know what that word signifies and it does not mean a sodomite who is celibate) and he is refusing to judge even though that is his duty (Vatican One) and while I have criticized his statement I did so in line with what you just recommended in this piece.

    4. Vatican 1:

      8. Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful [52], and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment [53]. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon [54]. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.

      No disrespect intended but if he refuses to judge why did he accept the office?

      I maintained the Bonds of Unity in Worship, Doctrine, and Authority but I also have rights (see Canon Law) that must be defended and the easiest thing to do is to identify the flummoxed faithful as those responsible for dividing and/or degrading the church even though men like me (thankfully) have no authority or power.

    5. Mighty Joe Young,

      I guess I just don’t see how any of the criticisms raised against Pope Francis for his comment couldn’t equally well be raised against Jesus Christ for His. Or, for that matter, His comment in John 8:15. Or John 12:47. Or St. Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 4:3.

      In each of these cases, the objection relies upon ignore the context, and the sort of “judgment” being rejected. What Pope Francis said (about not being in a position to judge the same-sex attracted priest who strives to live the Christian life) doesn’t strike me as inconsistent with Vatican I’s recognition of the pope’s supreme authority over all ecclesial cases. It’s not like Pope Francis is saying that he must recuse himself from all canonical suits from now on. He seems to be saying something more like, he can’t peer into the conscience of a man who is grappling with an inclination towards sin.

      I admit, I don’t know why Pope Francis puts the matter in such naked, bold terms. But I don’t know why Christ does, either.



    6. Cornelius a Lapide on John 8:15

      Ver. 15.—Ye judge after the flesh. (1.) Ye judge of Me, not according to truth and equity, but from the carnal hatred ye have against Me; as living according to the flesh is to live ill, so judging according to the flesh is to judge unjustly. (2.) From My Body, which ye see, ye count Me a mere man; because I am in the flesh ye count Me mere flesh, judging wrongly. And thus ye rule that Truth can lie. For I am the Truth (S. Cyril).

      (3.) Ye judge by your senses alone, by that which ye see of Me; that I am a mean, poor, abject man, not the Messiah, not God who hides Himself in My flesh; and therefore ye condemn Me as a proud blasphemer for asserting Myself to be the Son of God. And this ye would not do, if ye judged of Me by reason and the spirit of truth. For this would declare to you that I am what I assert, Messiah, the Son of God. “They saw the man,” says S. Augustine, “but did not believe Him to be God.” And the Gloss, “they thought Him to be a man, who was not to be believed when praising Himself.” “Moreover,” says S. Cyril, “He acts like a physician who heeds not the insults of his patients who are mad, but applies to them the fitting remedies; fighting against disease, but not against the patient, whom he wishes to restore to health of body and mind.”

      I judge no man,

      not as ye do, by outward appearance, but according to reason and the spirit. (4.) S. Chrysostom says, “Because the Jews might make this objection to Christ, ‘If we judge wrongly of Thee, why dost not thou convince us?’ Christ replies, I judge no one. It is not My business. Were I now to judge you, I should assuredly condemn you. But this is not the time for doing so.” (5.) To judge in this place, means to perform a kind of judicial act, and hence it means to testify, or bear witness, for witnesses force as it were the judge to give sentence in accordance with their testimony. And hence a witness is a kind of judge (see Is. lv. 4). For the whole question between Christ and the Jews was with reference to His testimony, whether it could be lawfully accepted. And He maintains that it can be, as He was not alone, but the Father was with him (see S. Ambrose, Lib. v. Epist. 20). And this is plain from what Christ says, verses 17 and 18, “I am He that bear witness of Myself, and the Father that sent Me beareth witness of Me.” But He uses the word “judge” because He seemed just before to have judged the adulteress, which the Pharisees resented. But He meant thereby that He had not judicially acquitted her, though He might have done so, as the Son of God. For I am not a mere man, as ye suppose, nor am I alone, for God the Father is with Me. And in this sense “I judge” is understood in its own proper sense, “I pass not a judicial sentence.”
      Ver. 16.—And yet if I judge (i.e., bear witness of Myself) My judgment (i.e., witness) is true, i.e., fit to be taken in court, for I am not alone, &c. S. Chrysostom explains, “If I judge, I should justly condemn you, because I should not judge by Myself, but I and the Father together.” But the true meaning is that given in verse 15.

      I and the Father that sent Me.

      “For I took the form of a servant, but lost not the form of God,” says S. Augustine; “Thy Incarnation was Thy mission.” And the Interlinear Gloss, “Though I am a man, yet I left not the Father; though sent in the flesh, yet I and the Father are ever One by Our Godhead; the judgment of both and the will of both are alike One.” As He says elsewhere, “I do nothing of Myself,” for I have never proceeded to any punishment, which was not in the mind of the Father. “For whatever thoughts the nature of the Father entertains, the same are completed in Me also, for I shine forth from His bosom, and am the true offspring of His substance,” says S. Cyril.

      Surely that is entirely different than the Pope’s who am I to judge?

      In any event, it is clear that we disagree but we have done so without personal insults being exchanged and that, as saint Martha Stewart says, is a good thing.

      pax tecum and good luck with your studies

  5. As much as I agree that some people need to reign their tongues in and that the ignorant showrunners of Rorate Coeli should just GO AWAY (seriously, stop talking about the Fransiscans of the Immaculate when you don’t know the facts), we should never kowtow to political correctness due to an overblown sense of “obedience”. Christ warned us of the hirelings who do not care for the sheep and when we see them it is our duty to call them out in prudence.

    Some of us have not forgotten the ilk of Bernardin, Grahman, and Weakland. Others are educated enough to know that the Mexican bishops betrayed the Cristeros, which led to the surrender of a victorious army and a mass slaughter of the former rebels after they returned home (Mexican Catholicism has never recovered).

    I violate nothing when I state thus:

    Roger Mahoney is a public apostate.
    Tim Dolan is Cardinal Quisling.

    The path to hell is paved with the skulls of bad bishops.

  6. Thanks for this, Joe. Very helpful. One reason to hope for a short Franciscan pontificate is that many (perhaps including myself) may have ample opportunity to repent of their rash words directed at the Holy Father.

    For my part, I try to avoid all personal references and aspersions directed against the Pope, restricting myself to attempts to interpret his–often deeply troubling!–words, or to pointing out the errors of those who supply transparently ludicrous “context” to his utterances in order to derive an orthodox interpretation (Hello, Patheos! Hey there,Catholic Answers!).

    I pray for the Holy Father’s intentions every day but even so, I can almost feel my heart hardening towards him. This worries me greatly, but I don’t know what to do about it, besides pray harder. This pontificate appears to be cut from the same cloth as the Obama presidency, a phenomenon the Australian columnist Andrew Bolt has called the Age of Seeming. Everything seems geared to the “spontaneous” photo op, the publicity stunt, the appearance of hipness and change, to gaining the world’s applause at all costs, even if it means giving the impression that doctrine is negotiable. “Who am I to judge?” is seriously one of the less troubling things I’ve heard in the past 18 months.

    And this morning, St. Augustine in the Office of Readings appears to address in uncannily precise terms the present crisis in the Church:

    But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offence not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God himself made no such promise to this world. On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want the Christian to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because he is a Christian, he is destined to suffer more in this world.

    For the Apostle says: All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. But you, shepherd, seek what is yours and not what is Christ’s, you disregard what the Apostle says: All who want to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. You say instead: “If you live a holy life in Christ, all good things will be yours in abundance. If you do not have children, you will embrace and nourish all men, and none of them shall die.” Is this the way you build up the believer? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing him. You have built him on sand. The rains will come, the river will overflow and rush in, the winds will blow, and the elements will dash against that house of yours. It will fall, and its ruin will be great.

    Lift him up from the sand and put him on the rock. Let him be in Christ, if you wish him to be a Christian. Let him turn his thoughts to sufferings, however unworthy they may be in comparison to Christ’s. Let him centre his attention on Christ, who was without sin, and yet made restitution for what he had not done. Let him consider Scripture, which says to him: He chastises every son whom he acknowledges. Let him prepare to be chastised, or else not seek to be acknowledged as a son.

  7. I think the larger narrative is that conservatives and traditionalists see the clergy bending over backwards for liberals and modernists.

    Oh we can’t stop singing the Gloria to the tune of My Little Pony because the the clip-haired czarina that runs our music program will throw a fit.

    Oh we can’t publicly criticize Dolan because it will sabotage his evangelism strategy with the gheys. [To which I ask: what evangelism strategy? It’s not like he’s going to lead the parade to an unplanned right turn on Fourth Avenue and march them directly into a confessional.]

    Oh we can’t criticize our priest for holding hands with a 15 year old altar girl like they’re on an awkward first date during the Our Father…why, he might fly back to Nigeria.

    And who would replace his vocation, one of the altar girls?!

    No, I dream of the day when there’s a dictatorship of cranky conservative laity who will ABSOLUTELY not concede an inch against the GIRM, will not concede an inch to bad music, or bat-**** crazy bishops.

    1. Be careful what you wish for. I grew up in the $$PX where the laity would run out any priest or fellow member of the congregation they didn’t like (The dresses sleeves are above the elbow?!!! MODERNIST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

      It’s not enough to be irate and fight against the bad, you have to know for what you are fighting. The Trads fail at this because they ironically know nothing of tradition.

      How else do you think they got stuck with the tragically inferior 1962 missal rather than something more authentic?

  8. Bravo, Joe!

    What you are hitting on is an area of the virtues that, like other things, including sexual immorality, has been neglected. I was amazed to see, recently, Fr. Hardon propped up as someone who hit the bishops with both barrels, along with Mother Angelica. While Fr. Hardon may have talked in general, about the wicked deeds and negligence of some bishops, he never attacked their persons by castigating them publicly, by name.

    In fact, I pointed that out on the FB comment section of the originating site, only to find my text grayed out a short time later, indicating, my comment was not visible to the public – something confirmed by another. In the same comment box, I had pointed out that Fr. Hardon understood, without a doubt, what Aquinas taught regarding how we talk about prelates. I’ll quote it here, too. This comes from Article 4 in the section on fraternal correction, in the Summa.

    He writes: “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.”

    He then also says: “It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God’s condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark.”

    Of course, what everyone quotes, in cookie-cutter fashion, is exclusively this part of that same piece:

    “It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. “

    That last quote is all people copy and paste all over the web, justifying their acid-laced language aimed at the bishops or the Pope. In fact, when you try to bring the other two quotes above to their attention, they pile on the self-righteous justifications (read that, they are offended, therefore they have a right to vent).

    There is a big difference in offering fraternal correction to a prelate, out of love (another point Aquinas makes elsewhere for authentic fraternal correction); and castigating a prelate in public.

    I was not surprised to see some of the comments here as they are very similar to what I have gotten any time I try to point out that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to discuss what the hierarchy does. I liked your expression, “holy and unholy ways.” But, to the undiscerning, imprudent person skimming the article, it is read as, “never disagree with bishops.” Or, when we choose a path of silence, or encourage people to voice their concern with greater virtue, we are considered complicit in the thing that fueled the outrage.

    Here is my piece on Fraternal Correction of a Prelate and what Aquinas really said. Related to that was a post about Mocking and Ridiculing Bishops. These were part of a series I did called, “Catholic Virtual Wars.”

    Thanks again for this excellent post. I hope you will consider looking into specific virtues that violated when we vent without boundaries. Part of it is imprudence, for which Fr. Hardon has an excellent definition:

    “Sins against prudence that are either by defect or by excess. Sins by defect against prudence are: rashness, which acts before due consideration has been given; thoughtlessness, which neglects to take the necessary circumstances into account; and negligence, which does not give the mind sufficient time for mature deliberation…”

  9. Frequent are the number of instances in which a person will criticise the laity for their speech whereas rarely, if ever, is there the occasion when that same person will criticise a Priest, Prelate, or Pope for their actions; that is, such actions and/or inactions appear to give credence to the liberal ideology that words matter more than actions.

    The laity have no authority or power and yet they are often identified as the source of division within the Church but it was not they who were responsible for the destruction of the Roman Rite, the creation of Altar Girls, Communion in the hand, the lil’ licit liturgy, the disappearing of Gregorian Chant, the refusal to try and convert Jews, the refusal to try and convert protestants, the creation of the heretical Lutheran-Catholic joint statement on Justification, the praying at Temples and Mosques, the destruction of the Religious Orders, the coddling and covering-up of queer clergy etc etc etc.

    It would probably be helpful for Ms. K to post examples of the times she has criticised/opposed the degrading of the Church by Popes, Prelates, and Priests; we get it, we are a safe and easy target – nobody risks job, status, or vocation criticisng us but still, a few acts of courage would be encouraging to we flummoxed faithful.

    O, and M.J. does not mind the criticism but he does mind being singled-out while the Hierarchy is allowed to skate us all out onto thin ice. As one who is the same age as Israel, M.J. is now a faithful member of a Church that is nothing like the Church he was born into (everything has changed Mass, Sacraments, Theology, Music, Papal Praxis etc etc) and as the pace of change intensified, so did the claims of continuity.

    1. About altar girls where I live there aren’t any. What do you mean the Church refused to convert jews What do you mean the Church has refused to convert protestants. Even if the Pope says a prayer in a mosque it doesnt mean he’s embracing that religion and he didnt partticipate in muslim worship. I dont think there’s anything heretical with the joint statement its just what we have in common.

  10. St. Thomas Aquinas says (Summa Theologica – 2nd part of 2nd part – question 33 – article 4), “If the faith is in imminent peril, prelates ought to be accused by their subjects, even in public.”
    With the words and examples of Cardinal Dolan the question is: has the catholic faith been compromised? Is it in jeopardy?

    1. I knew someone would use that cookie cutter quote. Even if the faith is in peril, it does not justify upbraiding, speaking ill of bishops, or speaking about them with harshness or impudence. See my quotes from Aquinas also in Article 4.

      Let’s not treat the Summa like Sola Scriptura.

    2. I meant to say that the quotes are already in my first comment in this thread where Aquinas qualifies how we are to use fraternal correction of a prelate when the faith is in peril. We cannot divorce the “how” if you read Article 4 in it’s entirety.

    3. Pope Francis has appointed Mr. Blase Cupich as the Abp of Chicago despite his record as Bishop of Spokane – so bad that a Patheos writer repeatedly took him to task publicly.

      D.K. Here is an apt opportunity for you to show us all how to write appropriately about a prelate whose record surely did not warrant his promotion and whose record was less than stellar and whose actions degraded the Church.

      O, and where were all the Miss Grundy’s when he was abusing the faithful in Spokane? Maybe they were too fixated sifting the commentary of the powerless. to mount a defense of the Faith.

      OK, M.J. will not belabor the point anymore. Almost too numerous to count are the opportunities available to constructively criticise those who wield power and authority in the Church and who do so in a destructive fashion but they are left to do their work unopposed while the silence of otters who do have a forum could be construed as agreement with their agendas.

  11. Posted by Joe HeschmeyerSeptember 19, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    “Mighty Joe Young,

    I guess I just don’t see how any of the criticisms raised against Pope Francis for his comment couldn’t equally well be raised against Jesus Christ for His. Or, for that matter, His comment in John 8:15. Or John 12:47. Or St. Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 4:3.

    In each of these cases, the objection relies upon ignore the context, and the sort of “judgment” being rejected. What Pope Francis said (about not being in a position to judge the same-sex attracted priest who strives to live the Christian life) doesn’t strike me as inconsistent with Vatican I’s recognition of the pope’s supreme authority over all ecclesial cases. It’s not like Pope Francis is saying that he must recuse himself from all canonical suits from now on. He seems to be saying something more like, he can’t peer into the conscience of a man who is grappling with an inclination towards sin.”
    Can a catholic can not call himself “Gay”? Can a catholic Bishop call a fellow catholic “Gay”? I DON’T THINK SO.
    read more:

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