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Bishops and Holy Justice

In our time, the level of insanity in the Church has become so great that people defend or downplay prelates who teach heterodox doctrine, fail to implement the laws and discipline of the Church, and refuse to preach the saving truths of Sacred Scripture. It is surprising how ignorant today’s believers are when it comes to the example of the great Catholic Fathers, Doctors, and eminent spiritual writers of the Church who often spoke clearly and strongly against corruption in the hierarchy. These holy men and women said what they said not only for their times but for our benefit, so that in every generation the Catholic faithful would cling to justice and not be led astray—regardless of who is preaching a false Gospel.

It begins, of course, with Saint Paul himself, who exhorts Saint Timothy to be a bishop who is never afraid to preach the whole truth of the Gospel:

I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry.  (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Of the almost countless examples one could choose from all the centuries of the Church, the most impassioned, luminous, and uncompromising are those of St. Catherine of Siena, whose engagement with a corrupt and cowardly ecclesiastical establishment in her day equipped her to be a prophet for our times:

No rank, whether of civil or divine law, can be held in grace without holy justice. For those who are not corrected and those who do not correct are like members beginning to rot, and if the doctor were only to apply ointment without cauterizing the wound, the whole body would become fetid and corrupt. So it is with prelates or with anyone else in authority. If they see the members who are their subjects rotting because of the filth of deadly sin and apply only the ointment of soft words without reproof, those members will never get well. Rather, they will infect the other members with whom they form one body under their one shepherd. But if those in authority are truly good doctors to those souls, as were those glorious shepherds [the saints], they will not use ointment without the fire of reproof. And if the members are still obstinate in their evildoing, they will cut them off from the congregation so that they will not infect the whole body with the filth of deadly sin.  (The Dialogue, ch. 119, Paulist ed., p. 224)

They [bad clergy] do not pay me my due of glory, nor do they do themselves the justice of holy and honorable living or desire for the salvation of souls or hunger for virtue. Thus they commit injustice against their subjects and neighbors, and do not correct them for their sins. Indeed, as if they were blind and did not know, because of their perverse fear of incurring others’ displeasure, they let them lie asleep in their sickness. They do not consider that by wishing to please creatures they are [in reality] displeasing both them and me, your Creator.  (Dialogue, ch. 122, p. 234)

Once she [the Church] is reformed with good shepherds, her subjects will certainly change their ways. For in a way, the guilt for the subjects’ sins lies with their evil shepherds, because if the latter had reprimanded and if the pearl of justice had been luminous in their holy and honorable living, their subjects would not have behaved this way. (Dialogue, ch. 129, p. 256)

Let us consider, lastly, what a modern-day Paul has to say—Dom Paul Delatte, O.S.B., the Abbot of Solesmes in the early twentieth century, whose penetrating commentary on the Rule is an abiding spiritual classic. Speaking of the abbot’s duty to correct wayward monks, Delatte’s insights apply just as well to any shepherd/sheep relationship:

It is always a difficult thing to face the inobservant monk, to take him by the throat and say, as Nathan did to David, “Thou art that man.” It is so pleasant not to make trouble for oneself and to have a quiet life. And then one may say: It will do no good. I have spoken before. To speak again is only to play the part of a Cassandra. There will be a scene, tears, a week of obstinate ill-humour, a violent ferment of rebellious thoughts, perhaps even the wish to break with a life which has become unbearable. … The Abbot will not fail of excuses to justify his saying nothing. Does not moral theology allow that there are circumstances in which it is better not to instruct, since the only result of knowledge would be to make a material sin into a formal one? Certainly it does; but it also recognizes that this privilege of silence no long obtains when a community would suffer harm, scandal, and disgrace. … St. Benedict requires the Abbot not to delay, not to wait until he is absolutely constrained by the urgency of the danger; as soon as evil customs begin to appear he must cut them down vigorously, to the roots: this is the only true mercifulness. (47-48)

This, indeed, is the only true mercifulness, as St. Catherine knew, as St. Paul knew—as our Lord Jesus Christ preached and practiced. May He send us shepherds after His own heart, who will feed their flocks with the healing bread of unadulterated truth, even if some of the sheep are clamoring for the fleshpots of Egypt.