"If we could see each other's thoughts, no one would be considered good." - Saint Stephen of Muret
I knew a priest who once publicly referred to his bishop as 'the antichrist'. It's almost impossible for me not to recall his contemptuous condemnation every time I hear that bishop's name. When priests do that stuff, it scandalizes their hearers. The result of such scandal generates a tendency amongst their hearers to rash judgment and the critical spirit. God knows I've fallen into that quagmire - all too often. Earlier, I read a critique calling a Cardinal of the Church a pornographer. In the past few days, accusations and condemnations of gay clergy have multiplied - and yes - I posted on it. I've done so in the past as well. To no avail, BTW. It does absolutely no good and changes nothing. Even if I would have had a catholic tv show - it changes zip. Did M. Angelica accomplish change by her criticism of Cardinal Mahoney and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles? Really?
A few months ago I came across an insightful article in Homiletic and Pastoral Review on the subject - I will reprint an excerpt below.
In the thirteenth century many priests were involved in seeking wealth and having a pleasant life. They hardly preached at all, virtually never studied, and paid for important positions so that they could get even more money. A number of priests openly lived with women, causing great scandal. Some of the bishops lived in unbelievable wealth, and would sell Church positions to keep their rich life style. Many of the people were just as bad as their leaders.
As a result, many so-called prophets had appeared, some good, some not-so-good, who promised terrible punishments if people did not reform. Peter Waldo was one of the reformers who had a great beginning. He gave up his riches to live in poverty and spread the faith. He had many followers who also lived as poor men, and did penance. However, when they began to preach without permission against the lazy and sinful priests, the Archbishop of Lyons, France, excommunicated them."Remember, my brothers, that the winning of souls is what pleases God, and we can do this better by working in harmony with the clergy than in opposition." - Saint Francis of Assisi, Mirror of Perfection - 54
In time they got into all sorts of errors, such as placing their interpretation of the Bible over the authority of the pope, denying both purgatory, and veneration of the saints. They also refused to go to confession to immoral priests, preferring to confess to good people who were not priests. As a result, the Waldensians were excommunicated by the pope in 1184.
Despite their sincerity, and their living radical Gospel poverty, they all fell astray. They lost the faith. But, their contemporary, Francis of Assisi did not. Why not? Because he never went anywhere to preach the Gospel without permission of the priests. Furthermore, he would never criticize the priests and bishops—even the most lazy and immoral ones—nor would he allow his friars to do so.
Today there are many priests and even bishops who seem to invite criticism by what they say and do, but most are far less culpable than the priests and bishops of St. Francis’ time. The recent scandals in the U.S. priesthood are much uglier but they have been dealt with far more strongly than those lesser but more widespread faults of the thirteenth century.
Perhaps the example of the Waldensians and Albigensians gives us an insight into what happens when people focus on the sins of priests and bishops.
I believe such criticism can feed our own pride, and make us feel superior to our Church leaders. From that point it is not a great leap to begin to lump their teaching in with their behavior, and to begin to reject the doctrines of the Church. The danger is real.Jesus warned his followers not to reject the doctrines of the scribes and pharisees despite their shameful behavior... Rev. Thomas G. Morrow - Read more