How to Criticize the Church the Right Way

By pintswaquinas June 8, 2023

Many people don’t need advice on how to criticize the Church. That comes naturally — sometimes too naturally. Rather, we need to know how to criticize it the right way.

The pope and bishops exercise Christ’s own authority over us. The Holy Spirit protects the pope and bishops united to Him from error when they proclaim truths of the faith.

But the pope and bishops are human. The indefectibility of the Church applies to the universal Church, not local churches. Nor is the pope protected from error every time he opens his mouth.

This means that the words or actions of members of the hierarchy sometimes invite legitimate criticism.

When criticizing the Church, you don’t want to whitewash things or become a doomsday sayer. Here’s how to strike a balance.

1. Consider why you’re criticizing the Church.
In other words, what’s your goal? Is it the glory of God and the salvation of souls? Or is it the product of a personal vendetta against the Church?

This may seem like a simple test, but the boundary between the two can be subtle. Heretics and schismatics often claim that their disobedience to the Church is based on saving souls. Of course, this is false.

Legitimate criticisms of the Church come from a humble heart that is obedient to the Church’s teaching authority—even up to the present day.

2. Think about how you criticize your family.
Your family undoubtedly argues, but at the end of the day, they’re still your family and you love them.

Through the virtue of piety, you also respect and honor your parents. When you criticize them, you hopefully do it recognizing that they have a claim on your love. There are things you should and shouldn’t say.

Our relationship with the Church is similar. Since you belong to the Body of Christ, the Church has a claim on your love and obedience. Any criticism you offer must take place within that framework. For example, you shouldn’t say that you are free to disobey Pope Francis’ magisterial teachings just because you find his off-the-cuff remarks offensive.

3. Be careful who you’re sharing your criticism with.
You may have a valid criticism of the Church to share, but that doesn’t mean everyone should hear it.

Consider your alma mater. You and your classmates may be able to offer constructive criticism of the school without harming the institution itself. You should not share those thoughts with members of a rival school.

Some people are obsessed with discrediting the Church. They may use your criticism as a weapon to undermine the Church rather than build it up.

4. Some criticism is healthy.
Constructive criticism shows a desire for reform. The Church’s sacraments and dogmas are perfect. The Body of Christ, however, is composed of imperfect people. Church leaders struggle for holiness just like you and me. Your criticism should come from a place of sympathy, with the goal of helping them become better shepherds.

Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit guides our tongues, so that any constructive criticism we offer helps build up the Church, not tear it down.

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