Today is World Day of Prayer for the sanctification of priests, and I urge everyone to do something for this - to say a rosary, go to Adoration or by some other means lend your prayers and sacrifices for this cause.
The importance of priests
Let's face it, without priests to say the mass and forgive our sins, we'd all be in dire straits.
The priesthood is not an easy vocation under any circumstances. And most of us deal mainly with diocesan and secular priests, who have few protective structures to support them: the religious has his superior and community as a bulwark against the enemy; husbands and wives have each other; single people can have friends and family. The priest, by contrast, must stand apart to some degree from others, and is often isolated from his too busy peers. Moreover, many priests at the moment are suffering the flow-on effects in terms of loss of community esteem.
But should we ever criticise them?
All the same, I am a little concerned at some of the suggestions being made at the moment to the effect that priests and bishops should never be criticised.
Fr Mark over at Vultus Christi, whose wisdom I very much respect, talks about 'the demoralizing and cranky rants about priests that float through the blogosphere', and urges 'silence when tempted to speak ill of priests':
His advice is to surround ourselves with models of holiness and virtue in the saints. That is good advice. His comment about the degree of crankiness - disrespect might be a better word - is also fair enough. We must, after all, give due respect to the dignity of the priestly or episcopal office regardless of our views on the particular occupant!
All the same time, I would argue that there are occasions when it is both the right and duty of laypeople to speak up. And in difficult times like the present, these occasions may well be frequent indeed.
The topic is also being debated over at Inside Catholic, where Francis Maier also urges Catholics not to criticize, concluding that "The more we publicly criticize our bishops, the more we put the [broader Catholic] family at risk." It is a position, I gather that is shared by a number of major catholic movements such as Opus Dei:
Maier's piece, however, is a reply to Russell Shaw's argument that it is excessive secrecy that led to the mishandling of abuse cases, and an article by Dean Hudson, which points to Canon Law as a justification for speaking up where appropriate. One commenter points out that St Thomas Aquinas concludes that
"A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but 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."
When it might be ok to criticise
So when is it ok to raise concerns or criticise? 'Glenn' over there suggests three circumstances in relation to bishops:
"1) If a Bishop is teaching or promoting by words or actions anything contrary to the teachings of the Church.
2) If a Bishop commits a wilful sin that is publicly recognised with sufficient evidence, and of a grave matter and scandalous nature, a Catholic can publicly admonish him by condemning the sin itself within its context.
3) Omission (ie- the failure to do something one can and ought to do.)
I think there are a few more one could add. When they are acting in a private capacity for example.
Or, most importantly, when a priest or bishop fails to respond positively to a reasonable request from the laity in relation to their spiritual needs - for the provision of a TLM, for example, or to allow them to show their devotion by kneeling to receive.
If we want to revive the Church, and convert Australia we have to start by converting ourselves. But we also need to do what we can to convert those who fill leadership roles in our Church.
So I'd like to propose a compromise between the two positions. Whenever we 'shine a light' on the actions (or inaction) of our pastors, let us pray also.
And let us certainly make a special effort on this day of prayer for priests as we contemplate the humanity of our great High Priest in the Feast of the Sacred Heart.