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Should a Catholic Publicly Criticize
Some Decisions Taken By His Superiors?

Pablo Picasso. Science and Charity.
(Pablo Picasso. Science and Charity. [Source])

1) Introduction

Normally, this section on "Lost Sermons" contains what appears to me as the sound dogmatic and moral truths of the Catholic Church. This particular text is a notable exception. It presents only my opinion.

The short answer to the question "Should a Catholic Publicly Criticize Some Decisions Taken By His Superiors?" is:

Normally no! But it is sometimes necessary in some serious cases.

2) Who am I to criticize my superiors?

Before I try to explain that short answer, I must first reassert some basic truths about myself:

2.1) I pray twice a day for our Pope, and our Bishop, so God may grant them His Light and Strength to govern the Church properly.

2.2) I want to remain loyal to Jesus ("God Served First", used to say Saint Joan of Arc), and therefore remain loyal to the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. See among others my Profession of Faith.

2.3) As soon as I discover somebody doing roughly what I'm doing, but having more authority than me in the Church (for example, a Priest, or a Bishop), I'll offer my help to that person, and gladly pull my whole website off the Internet if they ask me to.

2.4) I don't enjoy seeing or discussing the problems of our Mother the Catholic Church in the public forum. I'd much rather be in a Church where all the members are perfect!

2.5) In a way, I'd just love to change Churches, or start up my own religion. That would eliminate the whole problem! But I'm convinced that God exists, and that God has founded the Catholic Church. So my conscience orders me to stay in that Church.

2.6) In a way, I'd love to be crazy! If I were mentally ill, or if this whole thing about "bad decisions taken by Bishops and Priests" was just an illusion caused by my pride, then I'd be dancing in the streets! That would be a wonderful thing! My Mother the Church wouldn't be suffering here in Quebec!

2.7) I feel uncomfortable criticizing my superiors when I re-read Lesson 7 of "L'École des chefs".

3) Why can we publicly criticize a superior?

In order to understand why it can be necessary to publicly criticize a superior, we have to think about what a "superior" is.

Men being what they are, i.e. animals endowed with reason and free-will, cannot attain their end without regrouping themselves in a society. And "regrouping themselves in a society" means putting a moral unity (i.e. a unity in the reasons and the wills) in a multiplicity. The production and maintenance of this moral unity is a fascinating topic which I don't yet understand perfectly, but let's look into it.

The standard metaphor, for the moral unity in a multiplicity of men, is the group of people who want to cross a river in a rowboat. If only one man in that rowboat had a brain, and all the other ones only had muscles, the choice for captain would be obvious, and it would be just as obvious that the sailors should just row and shut up! The problem of criticizing one's superiors exists for two reasons: (i) the captain of the rowboat doesn't have a perfect reason and will (actually, all men are wounded by ignorance, malice, weakness and concupiscience), and (ii) even the lowliest of sailors has more than just muscles.

Sailors must always respect the captain, and normally always obey him, otherwise the rowboat will sink or never get across the river. The captain must find the best course to cross the river, explain it to the sailors, and then encourage all sailors to row together and in the right direction. The captain must also punish sailors who play poker without rowing, or who clobber passengers with their oars. But what happens if the captain starts to drink whiskey, and throws passengers overboard, or even steers the rowboat toward deadly waterfalls?

Here, we have to "get out of our metaphor", since we're talking about the Catholic Church, not a rowboat and a river. The solution to a serious case where a superior is leading his subordinates to a disaster is not always simple. On the other hand, in my opinion, at least three things are clear.

3.1) First, the lay faithful also have a brain:

The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
[Code of Canon Law, Canon 212, §2]

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 [...]
[Code of Canon Law, Canon 212, §3]

3.2) Second, history teaches us that some persons have publicly criticized the clergy, like some prophets [Ez 34], some carpenter dude who lived in Nazareth [Lc 11:39-52], and even the Mother of that simple carpenter (who does She think she is?):

The priests [...] by their wicked lives, by their irreverence and their impiety in the celebration of the holy mysteries [...] have become cesspools of impurity. [...] Woe to the priests and to those dedicated to God [...]! The sins of those dedicated to God cry out towards Heaven and call for vengeance [...].
[Message of the Virgin Mary to Mélanie Calvat at La Salette, 1846-Sept-19]

3.3) Third, we sometimes have the duty to speak out against our religious superiors:

It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.
[Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, q. 33, a. 4, ad. 2]

it is charity to cry wolf when he's among the sheep, and even wherever he is.
[Saint Francis of Sales, Introduction to Devout Life, 3rd part, ch. 29.]

4) Some conditions which must be satisfied

Here are some of the (possibly more numerous) conditions which must all be satisfied for an inferior to criticize his superior publicly:

4.1) The Pope, as Pope, is off-limits. At some point of time, a line needs to be drawn. For example, an ordinary soldier can criticize a decision taken by his Captain or Colonel, if this decision is contrary to the explicit orders of the General. But the General must not be criticized publicly.

On the other hand, when the Pope is not speaking as Pope, but is giving his private opinion, there are some exceptions.

4.2) The problems must be very severe. If the mistakes made by your superiors are minor, you can overlook them without causing serious harm.
(In my case, I claim some religious leaders are participating, at least by their sins of omission, in the destruction of the Catholic Church in Quebec. Not exactly a detail!)

4.3) The problems must directly concern the Common Good. If, for example, you know that such a Bishop regularly sodomizes such a seminarian, that is a very severe problem. But it doesn't directly concern the Common Good. A counter-example would be a Bishop who publicly teaches something contrary to the teachings of the Church, or who omits to defend innocent children who are being massacred, etc.

4.4) The criticism must target the bad decision. Only God can judge the intention. (On the other hand, it is sometimes necessary to name the author of this bad decision, otherwise the denunciation becomes so abstract and "encrypted" that the faithful don't understand it.)

4.5) Attempts must have been made to do everything in private. If your superiors make serious mistakes, you can't "go public" right away.
(In my case, I've given two letters in person to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the first one a few weeks after he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Quebec, the next one almost a year and a half after. I've also personally delivered to the Chancery at least three letters to Cardinal Ouellet in between those two that were delivered in his hands. I never got as much as an acknowledgment of receipt.)

4.6) The highest-ranking subordinate should make the criticism. If our superior makes a mistake, then it's our superior's superior who should call it to his attention. If only subordinates see it, then the subordinate with the highest rank should speak up.
(In my case, even though many Priests have voiced at least partial approval of this website, they have all declined to speak up, apparently out of fear for "the wolves" in the Diocese. I've also sent a letter to the Apostolic Nuncio in Ottawa, Canada, which didn't give any results.)

4.7) The usual rules for Fraternal Correction apply. Charity, Moderation, etc. See among others: Canon 212 in its entirety, IIa-IIae, q. 33 in its entirety, "How to Condemn a Bad Work", etc.

5) Conclusion

Twenty years ago, I was pretty well aware of everything I know today, concerning the sad state of the Church in Quebec. But I was young and unsure of myself, so when some member of the clergy would tell me something strange, I would back down, intimidated by his rank. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Twenty years later, I've seen all the damage the wolves can do, and all the tricks they use to hide. I've read many books describing exactly what I see personally, spoken to many persons confirming my hunches, etc. I know from experience that the twenty or so years I kept quiet didn't help the Church. Also, like the old Eleazar [2M 6:24], I'm old and I don't have anything to lose, so there is no way I'm going to shut up now!

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