Word Magazine February 1961 Page 9
CRITICIZING THE CLERGY
Re-printed by courtesy of
THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX JOURNAL
A young priest who recently took over his first parish was rudely shocked one day when he heard members of his Orthodox Catholic flock engaging in biting gossip. Even loyal and fervent Orthodox Catholics sometimes catch themselves joining in gossip about a priest who they know, or one of whose faults they have heard. What did Father J. M. K. think?
‘There’s a special kind of malice attached to speaking evil about priests. They have the high and responsible office of administering to the spiritual needs of all the people of their parish. In general, the higher the office and dignity of the one whose reputation is assailed, the greater is the harm done by the evil task . . . and the greater the sin that is committed.”
But can’t a person criticize the dress or voice of a priest?
“Yes,” says Father, “there are some things that may be said about a priest that do not in any way reflect on his good name and do not make respect for the priest more difficult for others.
“Active priests occupy a prominent position before their people.” Every member of their flock is interested in them. Thus, there is no harm done when parishioners tell one another about a priest being bald, or not very good looking.
“Certainly there would be little harm in commenting that a certain priest is a very nervous public speaker, or very shy … so long as these are objective traits and the comment is not inspired by personal ill-feeling.”
Then Father brought up the Ninth Commandment.
“In general,” he said, “it forbids two great sins against charity. The first is detraction — which means unnecessarily revealing the secret but real sins of somebody else. Gossip comes under this heading.
“The second sin is that of slander or calumny. This means telling evil lies about others . . . interpreting their secret motives as evil . . . putting out suspicions of evil in others as if they were proved facts.”
He explained they were sins because they injure the good name of a fellow human being. Secondly, they do harm to the good order of society by breaking down respect for lawful authority. It makes obedience and even the practice of religion itself difficult for those who have heard the evil talk about others.
He disapproved of so-called one-man campaigns of condemnation against a pastor’s method of administering his parish.
“There are some Orthodox Catholics who make their dissenting views a starting point for a crusade of constant criticism and rebellious talk. They don’t like the method of collection. They nag about these matters to everybody they meet. They do their best to make the pastor appear to others as ignorant, imprudent, foolish and perhaps even idiotic just because they disagree with the way he does things.
“This sort of constant criticism, accompanied, as it usually is, by the bad example of refusal to cooperate in any way with the pastor, can in due time cause much damage.”
The young priest continued. “Priests are human beings. In dealing with multitudes of people, they cannot escape hurting individuals now and then. Like everybody, priests are subject to sickness, fatigue, moods, mistakes of judgment.
He gave three examples. A priest may rebuke a person coming late to Divine Liturgy without knowing that the person may have been the one in a hundred who had a good reason. A priest may get impatient with a mother’s crying child and thus incur the mother’s wrath. A priest may choose the wrong approach for reminding a backsliding parishioner of his duty to help support the parish financially.
“Such incidents, and a hundred like them, have caused persons to bear a grudge against a priest. Very often it is persons who have been greatly at fault who are most apt to nurse a grudge against a priest. The worst of this is that such persons don’t come to church regularly and keep their children away—using as an excuse . . . ‘Father was unkind to me’ .”
Despite their lofty vocation, priests remain human. They have to save their own souls like everybody else. But they can also choose to lose them. The Orthodox Catholic faithful will always see some faults in their priests and will have some reason to be resentful toward them at times, Is there an answer?
“Yes.” he said. “God promised infallible guidance to His Church, and Grace and salvation through the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments. He did not promise that all His priests would he saints and geniuses at the same time.
“Before unnecessarily criticizing the clergy, remember that a whispered prayer for the priests will be a far, far better thing to do.”