It’s totally peachy to publicly rebuke priests…

…just not prelates or popes.*


Now, if it turned out that priests were the vicars of bishops, and that no vicar of a holy one can be criticized, well–

But no–no, there simply must be some room in the Church for the prophetic voice of the laity (cf. CCC §§ 904-913).


‘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. St. Gregory the Great says that priests and pastors will stand condemned before God as the murderers of any souls lost through neglect or silence. Tot occidimus, quot ad mortem ire tepidi et tacentesvidemus.

Elsewhere St. Gregory asserts that nothing more angers God than to see those whom He set aside for the correction of others, give bad example by a wicked and depraved life.’ Instead of preventing offenses against His Majesty, such priests become themselves the first to persecute Him, they lose their zeal for the salvation of souls and think only of following their own inclinations. Their affections go no farther than earthly things, they eagerly bask in the empty praises of men, using their sacred ministry to serve their ambitions, they abandon the things of God to devote themselves to the things of the world, and in their saintly calling of holiness, they spend their time in profane and worldly pursuits. 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, 0 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.’

‘The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations’, St John Eudes

* This post was the inspiration for my own post here. 


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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20 Responses to It’s totally peachy to publicly rebuke priests…

  1. The relationship priest to bishop seems to parallel that of pope to Christ, and for that matter, any bishop to Christ. If it’s wrong to critique the pope, or a bishop, because he is vicar of Christ, it’s wrong to criticize any priest. Deacons, too, are endowed with authority to teach, preach, and assist in celebrating the sacraments, so we mustn’t speak against them. I guess the only ones left are the poor religious.

  2. Loneliest Place in Rome says:

    Am I stretching it too much to think that now it’s peachy to attack Humane Vitae? For if a formerly silenced priest wrote as much in his book, and that priest is no longer silenced, in part, due to Pope Francis (if reports be true), and since in today’s Church to be Catholic is to be on board with anything and everything a Pope says and does (otherwise you are a trouble-making dissident stuck in the Middle Ages hell-bent on stifling the Holy Spirit), then by implication, when the Pope tips his theological hand by his rehabilitations via interventions, it’s best to redefine my personal orthodoxy I’m guessing.


  3. Mary Griffin says:

    Although St. John Eudes comes down very hard on the priests, he lays the blame for their conduct at the feet of the faithful. “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, 0 ye revolting children . . . and I will give you pastors according to my own heart’ (Jer. 3, 14-15).” Further, nowhere in this quote does St. John Eudes encourage us to publicly criticize bad priests. Instead, he tells is that it is up to us, the laity, to change. “That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians, “Return, 0 ye revolting children . . . and I will give you pastors according to my own heart” (Jer. 3, 14-15)”.

    Those who sit in judgment and condemnation will themselves be judged and condmened.

    So no, it is not “totally peachy” to attack priests.

  4. Loneliest Place in Rome says:

    It becomes the chicken and the egg scenario, doesn’t? For St. John Chrysostom or St. Athanasius (it’s debated where it originated) placed the emphasis on erring priests or bishops such that the floor of Hell is paved with their skulls.

    Then there is the question of how others have dealt with the engagement of the laity with their superiors. St. Thomas stated:

    “It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.”
    Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 45


    “Augustine says in his Rule: ‘Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger.’ But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.”
    St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 4, Sed Contra.

    Specifically to the question, Whether a man is bound to correct his prelate?, he states:

    “the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction. ”

    “We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, “being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger,” as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above. ”

    “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.”

    Of course, Roberto de Mattei expressed his “strong reservations about the communication strategy of Pope Francis”, and was actually received favorably by the Pope, which is another irony of the new self-righteous ultramontanism.

  5. Mary Griffin says:

    Personally, I don’t see a whole lot of “charitable correction.” Just a whole lot of condemnation. I think we would all do well to take St John Eudes’ advice.

  6. Tony Jokin says:

    Just a FYI, whether you judge someone or not, you will be judged after death and condemned if guilty. Your guilt does not go away just because you did not judge. IN FACT, you might even be found guilty for not judging when it was your responsibility.

    Christ saying “judge not and you will not be judged” refers to rash judgement. Please take a look at the following by St. Thomas Aquinas

    Also another FYI, a priest who leads the flock astray is not found innocent because he was an instrument in visiting God’s chastisement on the faithful. Just as the Devil is allowed to roam free and assault the Church, an evil priest may also be allowed to have his day. But just as with the devil, the priest will be found guilty of his heinous acts.

    So the way I see it, the priests who stray must be rebuked (in person and with charity) for the good of their own souls.

  7. Tony Jokin says:

    I think the world has become too “sensitive”. The people of today are so sensitive (which could actually be pride too) that you point out something obviously wrong in their actions and they will protest about your lack of sensitivity and “condemnation” (without any discussion of their own action that was “condemned”). In a way, it is a Pharisaic complex.

    Lets not feed the pride and instead try to correct it, eh?

  8. I really have to point out, given that Mary takes a lot of grief on these matters, that the topic at hand is not rebuking priests but, as she reiterates in black and white, “attacking” them. And her interpretation of St. Jean Eudes is completely correct.

    I also take it that the reference was to Romans 2:1, which is a standard verse in this context, rather than to the Sermon on the Mount.

  9. Correct. Pope Benedict XIV wrote strongly against criticizing ANY superiors, which, for the laity, could even be a deacon. Yet of course, everyone here–even Brooklyn Mary, I think–can see how there is a legitimate place for “calling out” deacons.

  10. ^ Yep. Papal positivism is a dead end. To paraphrase Newman, ten thousand imprudential actions do not a heresy make. The point, as so many have noted numerous times, is not whether the pope is a formal heretic, but that Catholics are well within their rights to stick to traditional prudence and piety when the pope is merely acting out his fallible, rash, ideologically suspect impulses.

  11. You can’t endorse Eudes’s position on this without also endorsing his public assertion that there can be, and at times are, “bad priests”. God may punish a sinner with a disease, but reason dictates that we must still acknowledge that that disease is an evil. Likewise, we may admit that bad priests and prelates are a punishment for “the people’s” sins, but it still follows that they are bad priests and prelates.

    Happily enough, this vividly vindicates my impression, and that of others, that we communion-in-the-hand, no-fault-divorce, confession-skirting, contracepting, religiously indifferent Catholics as a whole are being punished with the likes of Pope Francis and his gang of clownish cardinals. To hear you tell it, however, a bad priest or prelate is a contradiction in terms, St. John Edues’s words, and plenty of other Catholic wisdom, notwithstanding. The thing is, if you go out of your way to praise the virtues of good priests–as Eudes describes them in the remainder of the passage I cited (follow the link)–you do so at the expense of praising lesser priests. Why would that be? You can’t publicly praise some priests without implicitly contrasting them with worse priests. Might it be that you recognize, publicly, that, compared to the widely celebrated priests, other, uncelebrated priests are in some relevant way, “bad”?

    No, no… of course not… that might be too logical, no?

  12. Could you please stop trashing your fellow Catholics? So much condemnation for Catholics who don’t “get it” like you do.

  13. Your caveat is well taken and I have revised this post’s title accordingly.

    I’m not a fan of argumentation based on a distinction without a difference, however, so I still stand by my point: if we can and should “rebuke” (or “strike/chop”) errant deacons and priests, then it follows that we can, within the bounds of charity, do the same for bishops and popes. Conversely, if we cannot, under any circumstances, strike popes and bishops, then we cannot do so against priests and deacons. Yet the whole point of Eudes’s claims is that we must at times acknowledge that we are beset by bad superiors, albeit due to our own collective sins.

    Meanwhile, as has been noted, what are we to make of a pope who publicly thanks his critics for their public criticisms of him? How does one remain in lockstep with the pope on that front?

  14. It’s not “argumentation based on a distinction without a difference” to point out that someone is being criticized for things they are clearly not saying; in the context of Mary’s comment, it’s entirely a distinction with a difference.


    Dear B.C. Thanks for the correction. I won’t ask – May I have another – because it is not Lent, but you are right to point out my error and I was wrong to do what I did.

    Mea Culpa.

    Pax tecum my friend

  16. I’ve actually been pondering that article for a few weeks.

  17. Tony Jokin says:

    Well, what if we look at the problem from this angle.

    Let us consider a hypothetical example of a priest engaged in fornication. Should we criticize him? What if it was pedophilia? If it is “ok” to do in the case of pedophilia, why is “not ok” to do it when the priest is preaching error (or systematically withholding truth)?

    If the reason for rebuking the priest in the case of pedophilia is that people are getting hurt, then how much more should we be rebuking the priest for leading the flock astray? In the cases of fornication or pedophilia, the damage is temporal. But the latter can very well lead to eternal destruction and suffering.

    Either way we cut it, the crisis we face today is primarily the result of the failure of clergy to do their job properly. Most Catholics themselves do not know their faith and that is the primary reason they end up losing it or watering it down themselves.

    If a child goes astray and is lacking the knowledge of his actions as immoral, then the parents are to blame. Similarly, when the flock goes astray in confusion, the ones in charge are to blame.

  18. James 5 – 19 My brethren, if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him: 20 He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.

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