When does criticising priests, bishops, and the Pope go too far?

I tend to criticize the clergy quite a bit especially the higher ups. However, for some reason many have found what I have said to be uncharitable and rude so I am curious how does one go about criticizing the clergy? I want to make sure I am not being uncharitable when talking about the clergy because I have the utmost respect for them.

Unnecessary criticisms are sinful IMO as it’s uncharitable. You can give your opinion on what happened/was said etc. and criticize it if it will lead to some good and it is necessary.

There’d be a lot more peace if people withheld giving their opinion/stating criticisms e.g. on twitter.

I see nothing wrong with criticizing any priest, bishop, or pope as long as it’s done with respect. Plenty of priests, bishops, and popes throughout history have done or said things that warrant criticism.

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I don’t know much, but I do know that pondering the situation in our hearts as Mary did and then praying is never wrong.

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It’s useful to have a think through about what and why you are criticising clergy.

(1) Is it about a problem that personally affects you day-to-day and in whose resolution you have an active role?

(2) Is the problem well defined and legitimate?

(3) Can you keep criticisms focussed, relevant and impersonal?

A frequent issue which I’ve noticed here at CAF (though not necessarily you as I’m not familiar with your posting history) is that people engagement in gratuitous criticism: they criticise for the sake of criticising rather than rectifying a problem. They criticise clergy (frequently those in a diocese on the far side of the world) based on vague and unflattering news reporting about a problem which does not even remotely affect them. It then becomes an exercise in idle gossip when people make all sorts of discourteous and uncharitable speculations about orthodoxy, fitness for office, etc.

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When I was growing up in the 50s, you seldom heard much criticism of authorities: the teachers, police, parents, etc. Come to think of it, that was when they had long lines for Confession.

Today it’s a different world. Most Catholic laity rarely go to Confession but are eager to confess the sins of other people, including clergy and bishops. This is part of a larger social trend, where students know more than the teachers, police are ridiculed,
and on no current sitcom does “Father Know Best”.

It’s never a good sign when many Catholics are floating along with the Secular mainstream. Whenever I am tempted to obey the current peer pressure, “what’s trending now”, I try to reconsider.

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St. Paul called out St. Peter publicly when he sided with the Jews and excluded the Gentiles. When does it go to far? It goes to far when you quickly ‘Judge’ and not ‘Love’ first.

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I think it goes too far when it serves no purpose. If a person is criticizing a priest, bishop or pope from the safety of their computer, what is the point? Is the criticism in any way helpful to them or is it merely a rant that they will never hear? Is it adding anything of use or just your opinion to a conversation? I don’t think it is necessary to criticize everything we disagree with. And yes, when it is judging them.

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Yes, that is a fair point. However there is also another problem which is “gratuitous defence” along the lines of “He’s a Bishop, the Church is infallible, so shut up. You just hate Vatican 2”

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Especially these days, when there is so much confusion (to say the least), we have to speak up about people who, in a more stable time, we would be loath to criticize, such as priests, bishops, and even the Pope himself. I bend over backwards to find the good in anything this Pope says or does, but as everyone should well be aware, many faithful Catholics are not nearly as sanguine about it.

Anything we have to say, should always be said in charity, and with all due respect. As a poster upthread pointed out, prayer beforehands is never wrong.

Yes, and as we’ve seen with the various scandals, a lot of shenanigans went on, and nobody spoke up. As hurly-burly as things get these days, I’ll take today’s approach over that of 50-75 years ago, any day of the week. I can’t imagine the agony of a child abused by a priest, who could not tell anyone, because “you can never go wrong with a priest”. That is the way Catholics thought back then. And look what happened.

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. . . Priests, bishops and the Pope? No problem, Just leave the deacons alone!!! :grinning:. Just kidding of course.

Justified critique aimed at fixing the problem, not just fixing the blame, should always be charitably given and received. Just whining, . . .not so much

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Agreed. One of the best definitions of gossip I ever heard was if you are talking about something someone did or supposedly did that bothers you but you aren’t telling it to the person or anyone who can directly influence the person’s actions. If you are a lay person and are not directly communicating with the clergy you have a problem with, then what’s the point aside from stirring drama? Also, I find that most of the issues being brought up effect nobody except in the critic’s head. Many go looking for things to be upset with the clergy about, too. If you are frequenting sites that are always publishing stories that are stirring the pot, that is seeking to criticize. It doesn’t even matter if it’s true or not, the reader is making a passtime of looking for things to critique.

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This is so true!

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A lot of good points in this thread.

I would just add that often we should not be criticizing people unless we have walked a mile in their shoes. It seems like there are many Catholics who want to tell priests in great detail how to do their jobs, yet these people are not priests themselves and, based on their comments, some of them don’t seem to be taking into account the practical reality of what it’s like to be a priest. I also don’t think it’s very kind or constructive to be calling priests lazy, cowardly, unmanly, and disrespectful to the Eucharist etc because they didn’t do what the poster thinks they should do. When the poster throwing this kind of stuff around is a male, I always think, “Then why aren’t you a priest yourself, going out and showing them how it’s supposed to be done?”

When I see priests who are knocking themselves out to serve their parishes and making sacrifices such as low pay, giving up family life, having to obey their bishop instead of just do what they want, etc and then they get all this criticism thrown at them from armchair “experts”, it makes me think that’s one reason why we don’t have more vocations. You would really have to be a special man to be willing to put up with all that every day for many decades.

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I’ve never felt the need to criticize the clergy and I’m not going to start now. That doesn’t mean that I don’t learn from any mistake if I see one, but who am I to criticize when I have my own faults to work on?

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This calls to my mind a rather macabre saying from Abba Moses the Black, a Desert Father:

If you have a corpse laid out in your own front room, you won’t have the leisure to go to a neighbour’s funeral.

Many Desert Fathers were also known for their acrimonious relationships with bishops. Abba Pambo, in particular, reminds me of the discipline of silence. He declined to speak to the visiting Patriarch of Alexandria, and he explained thusly:

If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.

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I’ve never felt the need to criticize the clergy and I’m not going to start now. That doesn’t mean that I don’t learn from any mistake if I see one, but who am I to criticize when I have my own faults to work on?

So you are okay with clergy abuses? You don’t think it is good to criticize those and bring them to light?

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Most of the so-called “clergy abuses” people complain about on the forum are not abuses in the eyes of the Church. In the cases where there truly is an abuse, such as the one in Switzerland where a priest was handing out the Eucharist in little take-home boxes and one in another current thread where a priest was going to be handing out Eucharist in ziploc baggies, the bishop or administrative superior has acted swiftly to nip it in the bud.

Edited to add, as Dan said below, I have never witnessed anything in my life that struck me as a “Clergy Abuse”. I have seen things at Masses that some people on this forum would not like, but that doesn’t make it abuse.

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I’ve never met any clergy involved in abuse, not even close. And even if someone claimed something, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions, there are many out there who make false accusations. If they bother accusing me unjustly, a simple layman, they will most certainly do worse against a member of the clergy.

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Criticizing abuse of course, criticizing the ones causing and allowing abuse of course but not clergy as a whole. The few who do these terrible things are NOT representative of the group as a whole.

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