On Publicly Criticizing Bishops


When I converted, I was overjoyed to be part of the One Body, but soon after discovering Catholic media, I was shocked by the criticisms — even condemnations — of some of the bishops. To a newcomer, that looks about as smart as poking your finger in your eye. Usually the justifications are that we need to keep the bishops in line, and I admit that in my kitchen I’ve expressed concern over some decisions.

With time, however, things started to make more sense, and without fail I sensed that the cause of my concern was the shallowness of my own knowledge, not the bishop’s. That’s the whole point of obeying and respecting an authority. Bishops are hierarchical authorities.

Lumen Gentium, among documents referenced therein, explains that if a bishop is “teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff,” he is “to be respected as a witness to divine and Catholic truth.” (25) The bishop speaks in the name of Christ, and in matters of faith and morals we are to accept his teaching and “adhere to it with a religious assent.”

But what about difficult or controversial public or political decisions in an individual diocese? Well, the way I see it, it is impossible for a lay person to know all that goes into his decision-making process, and it just seems backwards to mistrust a man who authoritatively speaks in the name of Christ. Why would we, the faithful, have so little faith in a man of God? It seems better to withhold public criticism and instead offer prayers, trusting him as a loving father who only wants what is best for his family.

As many wives know, public questioning of a man’s familial and fatherly aptitude only hinders him from fulfilling his duties with effectiveness and dignity; he needs his family’s praise and loving support. If there is disagreement, we know too that within families, private discussions held in charity can go far to solving misunderstandings. Publicly broadcasted criticisms only make things worse.

Remember that saying? “If you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.” It’s a good saying to remember before making any public criticism of any other person, ever. Truly, life is much easier when we free ourselves to focus on our own faults, for we have the power to change those. We also have the obligation to fulfill our own role in the Church. After all, even fingers can play a vital role in the functioning of the body, but not if they are stuck in the eye.


About Author

Stacy Trasancos, Ph.D. is a wife and mother raising seven children with her husband in New York. She is a chemist turned homemaker and joyful convert to Catholicism who is currently pursuing an MA in Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary so that she can communicate the doctrines of the Church more effectively. She is Chief Editor at Ignitum Today and a Senior Editor at Catholic Lane. She writes about all that she is learning at her blog Accepting Abundance.

  • I read once that a lot goes on in the background that we never hear about when Bishops make public decisions. I’m sure that’s true; the question boils down to trust. If you truly have an untrustworthy bishop, then God help you and your local diocese. But the vast majority of bishops are trustworthy men.

    With all the scandals of the recent years maintaining trust and a healthy attitude toward authority can be very difficult. Believe me, I’m just as anti-authority sometimes as any American. Prayer, as with most of life, is definitely called for in this area. Remember that in prayer each of us has a one-on-one, private audience with the Head of the Church Himself. Part of being Catholic is obeying your bishop.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    “Bishops are hierarchical authorities.”.
    I agree fully.
    You are saying clearly what I have been trying to say, but without your clarity and precision.
    The bishops = USCCB, they deserve obedience.

    I was interested in noting this article is illustrated with the hand of Constantine, which is appropriate after reading Robert’s excellent articles.

    I note PH agrees with me.

    A problem I have (another one) is with the Acton Group. But this group cannot be accused (perhaps) of sharing the views of Lord Acton, who was against the power of the pope. “Aabsolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    • Terri K

      The USCCB, as I understand it, is not an official Church entity. According to Michael Voris of ChurchMilitant.tv and Michael Hitchborn of American Life League, the USCCB is mainly run by lay employees. It’s not a good situation. I wouldn’t advocate default obedience to the USCCB, therefore. The lay people, many of whom are liberal Catholics who defy Church teaching, have too much influence in the organization. The USCCB has been called out, for instance, because they have allocated large amounts of money to organizations involved in abortion and promoting the homosexual agenda. It seems the bishops trust the lay people a little too much. There is not enough oversight.

  • Oct. 1st: I do believe it’s best to write to a Bishop and respectfully question him if he seems to stand against Catholic teaching. There were Catholic Bishops who approved giving the morning after pill to women in the case of rape…however, if a woman is already pregnant, then the pill prevents implantation in the womb and causes an abortion; there were Bishops who approved the transfer of Priests suspected of sexually abusing young people and afterwards said that no one had counseled them to do otherwise. And there have been Bishops who publicly stand against the Church on issues like homosexuality, birth control etc…although Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Cardinal Burke and other Church authorities have publicly declared that anyone in a public position, such as Catholic politicians, who promote and support abortion should not receive Holy Communion until they go to confession and publicly retract their pro abortion agenda…some Bishops disagree…so there are difficulties but they should always be addressed respectfully ….

  • If a bishop or the USCCB, purporting to speak for all of the American bishops, pronounces a position on economics, political, environmental, or immigration issues, areas outside their “jurisdiction” and competence, that I know to be wrong and hurtful it is my duty as a Catholic and an American to publicly oppose their policy positions.

  • Mt281920

    paragraph 907 of our very own Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear on this issue. Regardless of one’s “rank,” nobody deserves a free pass if they are teaching outside the boundaries of Christ or our Faith Doctrine. For instance, I am aware of more than a few US Bishops that openly teach that homosexuality and same sex marriage is ACCEPTABLE. What happens? NOTHING. And we wonder why non-Catholics look at us as if we have 2 heads? With Bishops teaching the above, our Church certainly has 2 tongues- and they’re saying different things. Jesus challenged the Pharisees for going out of bounds. If we are His Disciples, are we to remain quiet when a modern day religious leaders does THE VERY SAME THING?

  • Stacy Trasancos

    Charity also demands that we speak to our brothers and sisters, and our fatherly leaders, in private before publicly damaging their reputation when we are not in possession of all the facts. Note the use of the word “publicly” in the title.