Is It Virtuous to Criticize the Pope?

Lately there has been much public criticism of our Holy Father the Pope even amongst faithful Catholics. Some have been dismayed by this criticism, considering it irreverent and judgmental. Yet others justify criticism of the Pope, saying it falls into the category of the virtuous act called fraternal correction. When is it virtuous to criticize another person, especially someone to whom we owe reverence? We look at the moral principles laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas in order to answer this question. In part one we will distinguish the private act of fraternal correction from the public act of just correction, and explain how both acts require a prudent and just judgment. Then in part two we will discuss how this judgment is modified regarding the evil of scandal as well as the virtue of piety.

Part I

Fraternal Correction

Fraternal correction, whereby we try to help someone who is acting wrongly, is an act of the virtue of charity, supernatural love. St. Thomas says charity is not merely good will, since good will proceeds solely from reason, but is a kind of friendship. Friendship includes good will, but also involves a union of affections, wherein the lover is drawn to the one loved on account of a likeness to him.1 Thus real Charity differs from our common notion of a guilt-induced decision to give out of our excess to the needy. Instead, charity is a love that is heartfelt and “wounds” us the same as passionate love does. Fraternal correction, as an act of charity, looks at oneself as united to the other, both sinners in a journey toward God. Hence, “We must not rebuke him, but groan with him and invite him to repent with us,”2 as St. Augustine says.

Fraternal correction is classified as one of the external acts of charity called works of mercy. Mercy is a kind of pity by which we unite ourselves to someone in their misery and wish to help them. Fraternal correction arises from pity for someone on account of their moral defect, and out of loving pity we wish to remove that evil from him.3 Thus we correct someone out of a true concern for his spiritual welfare. St. Thomas says that fraternal correction is preceded by another spiritual work of mercy by which we bear wrongs patiently. This patience prevents us from becoming disturbed and losing good will toward the person, and then this good will makes us strive to help him.4

Since the end or purpose of fraternal correction is to help someone, it clearly does not require correcting other people all the time and in every circumstance in which they fail. We would not wish to thwart the end by correcting someone when it is likely to make them worse off or to be a hindrance to his betterment. The end of fraternal correction is best served by someone who has already earned the offender’s trust, or who is held by that person in high esteem. Again, while our charity demands that we correct what we see if and when the right opportunity arises, we should not be on the lookout for defects to correct. St. Thomas quotes Proverbs 24:19: “Lie not in wait, nor seek after wickedness in the house of the just, nor spoil his rest.”

Fraternal versus Just Correction

Fraternal correction differs from the correction which is an act of justice because it has a different end or purpose. Whereas the end of fraternal correction as a work of mercy is a remedy for the offender, the end of just correction is a remedy for the act itself as hurtful to others. We may not be doing a stranger any favors if we tell her she is dressed immodestly. However, when a restaurant maître d’ turns away a customer lacking shoes and a shirt, he does a favor to his patrons regardless of whether the customer himself appreciates it. Because of this difference in ends, anyone may be competent to correct another fraternally through charity and prudence, while just correction rightly belongs to the superior or to an equal who can stand between the two parties.5

Just correction may be public when this is the surest way to protect the common good, whereas fraternal correction is private, at least initially so, because going public would damage the person’s good name, which may not be in the offender’s best interest. A good name should not lightly be destroyed because the fear of losing one’s good name restrains many from sinning. St. Thomas says the order of fraternal correction is first one-on-one, then privately amongst a few “witnesses” who are trusted or esteemed by the offender. The Alcoholics Anonymous practice of an “intervention” comes to mind as an example of the latter.

Going beyond the few to the community or to the general public would only be an act of fraternal correction if there is good reason to believe this is necessary to persuade the offender, and if it is indeed likely to succeed in persuading him. Since going public damages his good name, his amendment must be likely in order to outweigh that loss. If, however, one goes public out of concern not for the offender but for the good of others, then the end has changed, and so this act is no longer considered fraternal correction, but just correction.

To address the question at hand, then, one must ask what the end of a criticism of the Holy Father is in a particular instance. If it is directed toward the amendment of the Holy Father, and thus done in the way most likely to change his heart for the better, then it is fraternal correction. Certainly those closest to His Holiness are best suited to correct him privately out of their love for him. Further it is most incumbent on them to do so, precisely because of his exalted office.

When a man reproves his prelate charitably . . . he offers his help to one who, “being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger,” as Augustine observes in his Rule.6

It is thus that we must look at the correction of the Pope by his fellow cardinals and bishops. However, judging by the fact that His Holiness has chosen not to pay heed to criticism that is public, it seems that publicly may not be the most effective procedure for correcting the Pope fraternally.

If, on the other hand, the criticism of the Pope is public because it is directed not primarily to his own amendment but to the good of the faithful, to prevent scandal, the act cannot be considered fraternal correction but is subject to the criteria of just correction. The next question, then, is: when would public criticism of His Holiness be just and when unjust? This depends on the judgment which motivates the criticism.

Just Judgment

In order to be just, correction must be preceded by another act of justice called judgment, same as the exterior act of fraternal correction or any other virtuous act follows the interior act of prudence, which is a private judgment. Judgment is the determination whether any act should be done; in this case, whether another person’s act is deserving of correction. Since anyone who is guilty of the same sin he judges condemns himself along with the other, we must judge justly with deep humility. Judgment is virtuous when its end is justice, and when it is delivered by one with the authority to judge, and when it follows the rule of prudence regarding the right circumstances. A parent executes just judgment when he metes out consequences to a child who has broken a family rule; if, for example, the parent has ascertained with certainty that it was done out of malice.

On the contrary, there are three ways in which one’s judgment may be a sin. First, judgment is contrary to justice when it comes from an evil heart which judges others like itself, or from the desire to judge ill of another on account of already being ill-disposed toward him. A parent who is himself prone to exaggeration may unjustly judge that his child is only pretending to be sick. A devout Catholic may unjustly judge a person’s action to be wrong, even when it is not, simply because that person is a liberal modernist.

Second, the judgment is rash and against the rule of prudence when it is formed on suspicion without sufficient certitude. A woman may rashly jump to the conclusion that her spouse is cheating on her because he comes home late several nights a week, and then ignores her. The third sin is usurped judgment, wherein one does not have the authority to judge. A person not knowing the Church’s teachings lacks the authority to judge whether anyone holding evolutionary theory is in material heresy.

Rash judgment is a venial sin when from slight indications one simply doubts another’s goodness, but it is a mortal sin if one forms a fixed opinion of someone concerning a grave matter, or goes even further so as to openly condemn the other. It may be difficult to refrain from interiorly forming a rash judgment about another’s goodness, but we must consciously fight that tendency, starting with how we treat him based on that judgment, and what we say about him. Rash judgment is evil because to despise another unduly does him injury, and no one should injure another without urgent cause. Further, interior rash judgment leads to external acts of injustice, just as excessive anger leads to striking another.

On the other hand, since private judgment is necessary in order to act prudently, it is not possible to forgo judgment altogether when in doubt. So how should one judge a man when in doubt? “We ought to deem him good, by interpreting for the best whatever is doubtful about him” (60, 4). While this may initially seem naïve and imprudent, St. Thomas argues that it is the only virtuous course.

He who interprets doubtful matters for the best, may happen to be deceived more often than not; yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man, than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted, but not in the former.7

The possibility of being deceived, however probable, does not justify rash judgment.

Judgment of persons differs from judgment of things, insofar as things cannot be harmed by an erring opinion, while persons can. St. Thomas says that in judging things, the good of the intellect is conformity to reality, so holding a false opinion through rash judgment of things is an evil to the intellect. However, with persons the goodness of the judgment is in one’s feeling toward the other, even if that judgment be false, and so it is more important to judge persons kindly than to judge them truly. An old Russian proverb quoted by Ronald Reagan says, “Trust but verify.”8 The prudent man verifies because he knows men are imperfect and subject to error, while the just man trusts others to behave morally.

Nor is the adage “judge the sin, not the sinner” particularly helpful here. St. Thomas interprets our Lord’s words “judge not and you shall not be judged” (Mt 7:1) as forbidding not only judgment concerning another’s inward intention but also judgment about uncertain actions on mere suspicion. Our Lord also forbids any judgment which does not proceed from good will. Thus both to “judge the sin” and to “judge the sinner” may qualify as a rash or unjust judgment. Judgment can only be certain about external actions that are objectively evil in themselves. Thus judging another’s actions in prudential matters without knowing all the circumstances would seem rash. When a man brags about an adulterous relationship, we are right to judge that action wrong, but when he chooses to space his children by practicing fertility methods, it may be rash for us to judge that act.

We must not be quick to judge the Holy Father’s words and actions, then, when we do not know all that motivates them, and when so many arguments can be made in their defense by one who tries to understand his perspective. We will come back to the Holy Father’s perspective further on.

Usurped Judgment

Usurped judgment is indicative of one’s inferiority in the matter. It is worth noting that when St. Thomas talks about superiors and inferiors throughout the Summa, he does not ever consider anyone to be an absolute superior of another (other than Christ). No one, he says, is superior to another in every respect, as there is always some quality by which that other may be equal or superior.9 Nor is any human’s sphere of judgment universal, but each matter falls within a limited sphere of authority.10 The husband, for example, may be the head of the family in general household matters, while he looks to his wife as the authority on the particular needs of each individual child. Yet, in the matter of the marriage act, St. Thomas says both spouses are equal.11

Regarding punishment, St. Thomas says the judge must be invested with authority over the common good. No one but the Holy Father, the Supreme Pontiff, for instance, has the authority to excommunicate. The Supreme Pontiff in turn is above the judgment of anyone but Christ Himself, as the First Vatican Council proclaimed.12 For this reason Christ alone has the authority to punish the Pope.

When, however, just correction is merely an admonishment done publicly by a private individual to prevent scandal or some other harm, a different sort of “authority” is required. One pertinent example in Scripture is when St. Paul corrects St. Peter because of the danger of scandal to the Faith (Gal 2:11–14). This incident is informative because St. Paul corrects the Pope publicly, which St. Thomas says “exceeds the mode of fraternal correction,”13 since the inferior must correct his superior privately. Yet if St. Paul were, as an inferior, to correct St. Peter, the reigning Pope, it could not be an act of justice. St. Thomas solves this difficulty while justifying St. Paul’s action by saying that with St. Peter he is “as an equal as regards the defense of the Faith.” This example clearly shows the importance of making fraternal correction a private admonishment. It also illustrates that only one who is an “authority,” by virtue of a certain equality in the matter at hand, can publicly correct another as an act of justice.

Since being equal to another in a particular matter may be something hidden, how does one know if he may consider himself an authority competent to publicly correct another? St. Thomas would consider this judgment as being moderated by magnanimity, the virtue that complements humility, whereby one strives for great things according to one’s gifts. He says that one knows what gifts one has. “Wherefore without prejudice to humility they may set the gifts they have received from God above those that others appear to have received from Him.”14

To consider oneself equal to one’s superior in some way is not necessarily wrong. To presume oneself to be simply better than one’s prelate, would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault.15

It seems, then, that while anyone can give a friend fraternal correction out of love, only a certain few are qualified to publicly correct another out of justice in any particular matter.

To judge the Holy Father deserving of public correction, we would need to be in a position of equality as a bishop, or else have been given the gift of particularly good judgment about the prudential matters in which we correct him. Yet good judgment comes from long experience and one wonders how many of us have the experience needed to be a good pope.

Part II


Are there times when one must justly judge another, even the Pope, and correct him publicly in order to protect others from harm? This is treated by St. Thomas regarding the worst kind of harm: the spiritual evil of scandal. A person is said to take scandal when they are led to sin on account of another person’s act that is not quite right. An act may be such as to cause scandal either in itself because it is sinful, or by the intention of the agent who wishes to corrupt another.16 The president causes scandal when he boldly lies, and the drug dealer when he introduces a teen to meth.

An action may also cause scandal when it only has the appearance of evil. There are two reasons a person may have for taking scandal from such an action. One reason is from malice, insofar as a person is looking to take scandal even from virtuous acts, and this is how the Pharisees took scandal from Christ. The Christian must not worry about giving the scandal of malice. The other is what the Scripture calls the scandal of “the little ones” (Mt 18:6), when someone is scandalized because of their own weakness. It was the scandal of the little ones that St. Paul counseled the Corinthians to avoid when he told them not to eat food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8:9–13).

A virtuous act never causes scandal, because it is not virtuous to carelessly give the appearance of evil. An unmarried man and woman driving across country together without a chaperone may give the appearance of evil, even though perfectly innocent. But the virtuous person is careful not to put himself in such situations. However, a virtuous person may commit a venial sin or a fault which approaches giving scandal, while insufficient in itself to cause scandal. Regarding the example already mentioned, St. Thomas says that St. Peter scandalized the converted gentiles by acting imprudently.

Both the appearance of evil and the fault which approaches causing scandal to the little ones should be avoided. Avoidance of scandal may require either deferring or concealing spiritual or temporal goods. St. Thomas says that, while no one should ever teach error in order to avoid scandal, nor should one fail in executing one’s duties, it may be appropriate to defer one’s teaching of the truth, or to defer fraternal correction and other works of mercy, and even to defer just correction. To teach error or fail in a grave duty is a sin. But it is not sinful to defer a good act to avoid scandal. The reason is that the virtuous act is directed to a particular end, and so must be proportioned to the circumstances. Causing scandal would thwart that end, and destroy the proportion to the circumstances. A good example is abstaining from meat on Friday. We may decide not to abstain from meat on Friday when we are served it by our host, because the virtuous end of abstaining may be thwarted if against charity and because it may cause scandal.

Returning to the case in point, even if the Holy Father’s actions justified a public correction, one wonders if the scandal caused by public correction would destroy the good end of that act. How many people’s faith would suffer, and how many Catholics would themselves descend into rash judgment, so that through lack of loyalty to the Holy Father they no longer hold dearly all the truths and practices of the Faith? Perhaps, instead, we should remedy any perceived scandal by defending the Faith while interpreting the Holy Father’s words for the best and ascribing to him the best motives. In this way we would perform our duty while avoiding the risk of causing additional scandal by a public correction. Certainly this is something to consider in good conscience before God.

From another angle, perhaps we ourselves are guilty of the scandal of malice, whereby we interpret in a scandalous way the Pope’s words, not of themselves sufficient to cause scandal, since they are at worst partial truths or ambiguous expressions. It is a case of looking at the glass half-empty when we could look at it as half-full. Keep in mind that each virtue and each doctrine is a mean between two extremes, so that, to someone on one extreme, the mean appears as the opposite extreme. When we find ourselves offended, it may be helpful to ask ourselves if in fact we ourselves are failing to hit the mean, and need to broaden our perspective.

For example, could not one conjecture that the Holy Father is himself acting in such a way as to prevent scandal of the little ones? Perhaps he only defers or hides the precise teaching of certain doctrines so as not to weaken the Faith of the majority of Catholics who are not ready to hear the truth in its fullness. After all, one should not throw pearls before swine (Mt 7:6). The pearls suffer insult, and the swine learn only to value the pearls less. St. Thomas says that truths may need to remain hidden from those who are not ready to appreciate them, in order to avoid scandal. Yet, I will add, since the truths are still available for anyone who seeks to find them, their being hidden may only make them more valued and sought after by those who have first experienced the message of unconditional love of the Gospel.

Admittedly, only God and the Pope himself, and possibly those close to him, know for certain if the Pope is acting thus in order to avoid scandal. But does not the very fact that such an argument can be made in defense of the Pope’s actions show that the rest of us are judging for the worst on mere suspicion, and are thus taking scandal on account of our own malice?


Our final consideration about criticizing the Pope concerns the virtue of piety, whereby the Pope is paid reverence and service. Reverence is the recognition of the Holy Father’s excellence as the vicar of Christ.17 Interior reverence results in exterior honor, which is attesting to a person’s excellence. This is opposed to reproach, which is attesting to someone’s defect.18 Criticizing the Pope publicly or even to our friends is a kind of reproach opposed to honor and reverence. Since we owe the Pope honor, to pay him reproach instead is against piety.

Service regards our subjection to the Pope on account of reverence. God made each thing to be perfected by its superior, and that perfecting requires being subject to that superior. Thus piety is not for the sake of the superior — the Pope profits nothing by our submission. But Piety is for our own sake as inferiors, who are much in need of perfecting.

When we criticize the Holy Father, we show a lack of reverence and submission which harms us and those who hear us. How are we to be perfected by the Holy Father if we are bent on taking scandal from his words? So many took scandal from Christ, because He taught things that were disturbing to their ears, but the disciples, on the contrary, even though shaken, remained faithful as a result of their piety. Doesn’t piety require us to assume the error is in our own interpretation, rather than in the Pope’s manner of expression? If we do not use piety as our filter, we may completely miss what God is saying to us through the Holy Father, and then we are no better off than those shepherdless souls outside of the true Church. In practice, this means putting aside what we are conditioned to find offensive in order to focus on the truth that God is conveying to us through the Pope.

The most important thing about piety, like with the virtue of faith, is its formal object. St. Thomas says that one cannot have faith if one rejects even one article of faith, because that destroys the formal aspect of the object of our faith.19 The formal aspect is that whereby we believe, namely because God has revealed it through His Church. The material aspect, on the other hand, is each particular article we believe. To fail to hold any one doctrine that the Church teaches is to reject this formal cause of faith and means that we do not have faith at all, even though we may still hold some things that are materially of faith.

Similarly, we can say about piety that we have reverence for the Holy Father because he represents Christ on earth. To pick and choose the degree and manner of our reverence and submission destroys the formal object of our piety altogether. We no longer have the virtue of piety if it varies with the particular pope in office or with his particular actions. If we honor a pope who is doctrinally clear and orthodox, while criticizing another pope who is not as clear as we would like, nor as exacting in the traditional practices as we deem appropriate, what has become of the formal cause of our piety, namely reverence for Christ Himself, whom the pope represents?

Some would put their own judgment over the Pope’s, saying that their piety extends to him only in regard to the formal aspect of the object, so that they only criticize what they deem contrary to that. But this objection fails. The formal object of piety is not related to the person of the Holy Father or to his choices, but to the office given him by God. Materially, our reverence manifests in the particular — how we think about him and speak about him to others. This duty of material piety is so serious that when rash or unjust judgment is of the pope, that essential circumstance puts that sin into the more grievous species of sacrilege.20


Several lessons can be taken away from this discussion. First, fraternal correction is done out of friendship in private. Secondly, the public correction necessary to maintain justice must be made by one who has a claim to equality in the particular matter of that correction. Third, we must avoid judging another’s actions rashly, without clear and sufficient evidence for that judgment, and instead give the benefit of the doubt in such cases. Fourth, we must not cause scandal to the little ones, even at the price of deferring or hiding the truth, though not at the expense of fulfilling our duties. Finally, we must with piety reverently submit ourselves to Christ Himself in the person of the Holy Father.

Unlike universal truths, which are about unchanging and certain things, moral judgments only admit of a limited amount of certitude when they are about contingent singular actions. Thus we can only put forth persuasive arguments, leaving the particular to be determined according to the reader’s virtue of prudence. Perhaps most helpful in this discussion is to see the principles of virtue being put into action by another. Charles Dickens has a wonderful example of piety in the manner in which Little Dorrit treats her foolish, worldly father and speaks of him to others. Her loving devotion is unquestionable, while she always interprets his actions for the best and is quick to make amends for his shortcomings. She begs others to excuse him when his actions are such as may cause scandal.

“Don’t judge him, sir, as you would judge others outside the gates. He has been there so long! I never saw him outside, but I can understand that he must have grown different in some things since. . . Not,” she said, with a prouder air, as the misgiving evidently crept upon her that she might seem to be abandoning him, “not that he has anything to be ashamed of for himself, or that I have anything to be ashamed of for him. He only requires to be understood.”21

We Catholics are the Church in the workplace, in our social circles, and in every place we are observed. Thoughtful persons do not look to the media for a picture of Christ’s Church but to their Catholic associates, and our virtues ultimately have the final say. Let us unite ourselves in the bond of charity which gives a higher purpose to the virtuous acts of fraternal correction, of just judgment, and of piety, and together give witness to the world.

  1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2nd rev. ed., tr. English Dominican Fathers, (accessed Nov. 27, 2018), II-II 23, 1. (Hereafter ST.)
  2. ST II-II 33, 1. Unless otherwise noted, all articles on fraternal correction are taken from II-II 33.
  3. ST II-II 30, 1.
  4. ST II-II 33, 1, ad 3.
  5. ST II-II 60, 1, ad 3. Unless otherwise noted all articles on judgment are taken from II-II 60.
  6. ST II-II 33, 4 ad 3.
  7. ST II-II 60, 4 ad 1.
  8. “Trust, but verify,” Wikipedia (accessed Dec. 11, 2018),,_but_verify.
  9. ST II-II 33, 3 ad 2 & 4 ad 3.
  10. ST II-II, 104, 5.
  11. ST II-II, 32, 8 ad 2.
  12. First dogmatic constitution on the Church of Christ, First Vatican Council, ch. 3, 8; online at (accessed Dec. 11, 2018).
  13. ST II-II 33, 4 ad 2.
  14. ST II-II 161, 4.
  15. ST II-II 33, 4 ad 3. Emphasis added.
  16. ST II-II 43, 1 ad 4. Unless otherwise noted all articles on scandal are taken from II-II 43.
  17. ST II-II 81, 3 ad 2.
  18. ST II-II 144, 3.
  19. ST II-II 5, 3.
  20. ST II-II 99, 2.
  21. Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, bk. 1, ch. 9; online at (accessed Dec. 11, 2018).
Joanne M.M. Baker About Joanne M.M. Baker

Joanne M.M. Baker is a homeschooling mother of eight children. She earned her undergraduate degree at Thomas Aquinas College and is currently pursuing a Master’s in theology. She and her husband have conducted a study of the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas for eight years in Denver, Colorado. Please contact her directly through her website: Mind of the Church.


  1. Well thought out. Thank you. I can use your resources and arguments when the pope bashing starts.

    • Avatar Giovanni Serafino says:

      I certainly respect Saint Thomas Aquinas and his scholastic approach to things Catholic. However, Aquinas, although helpful, is not the last word in Catholic theology. After all, he was wrong about the immaculate conception of the blessed virgin Mary . We have a situation in the Church today where the vicar of Christ, instead of “confirming the brothers in in the faith” is causing confusion, scandal and division. As the code of Canon Law clearly states, each Catholic has a right to approach ecclesiastical authority and make his concern known. It is clear, that Pope Francis is a “law unto himself,” and refuses to take correction from his fellow bishops . In fact, when fellow bishops ” correct” him, he responds with vindictiveness in a dictatorial manner. What other options do we have than to voice our criticisms, respectfully, in the public forum?

      • Is Pope Francis causing confusion or are those who refuse to listen to him, understand him and obey him causing confusion?

      • Giovanni, God uses foolish things, like the Cross, so that we can be saved by faith. We all need humility!

      • What if it’s both, Jane? It is true that a worse confusion could come from the correction. Like with posting voting guides and Catholic teaching guide, we could inform each other of what the defined truth is on certain matters and reason accordingly.

      • Avatar Michael says:

        Giovanni, you made an accusation against Pope Francis. Now please provide your proof, not your feelings, to prove your accusation that Pope Francis considers himself “a law unto himself.” I would also like to know how much Canon Law you have formally studied, under a scholar who is a Canon lawyer.

      • Avatar Fr Khori says:

        Bravo Giovanni! St Thomas is not the be all and end all of theology and his complicated arguments are fine for those who understand them. Francis is confusing the brethren not confirming them. Anyone who is awake and aware can see this. I don’t need St Thomas to explain this or refute it.
        Ultramontanism was in vogue among many Catholics through the reigns of the last 2 popes. Now to be consistent many are trying (even though they themselves question the acts and words of this pope) to defend the foolishness of ultramontanism.
        When a pope strays from the deposit of the Faith the Holy Spirit does not guarantee his words or actions. Too many Catholics think anything the pope says is ex cathedra. Wrong.

      • Fr Khori, A Wiki quote “[The doctrine of papal primacy was further developed in 1870 at the First Vatican Council, where ultramontanism achieved victory over conciliarism with the pronouncement of papal infallibility (the ability of the pope to define dogmas free from error ex cathedra) and of papal supremacy, i.e., supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary jurisdiction of the pope.]”

        We bend our will to the words of the Pope! There is papal supremacy and also love, kindness and mercy.

      • Avatar Brian Mullady says:

        Point of order. Aquinas argued against the Immmaculate Conception (one small point in 10,000 pages of erudition) because it was not the common teaching of the Western Church. An explanation had to be developed which did not remove Mary from among the redeemed. Had it been the common teaching he would certainly have argued in favor of it. He is the norm for Catholic doctrine in theology. Sorry. He held she was conceived in sin and then immediately cleansed. He would certainly not have held this had it been the common teaching. Please do NOT use that as an argument against his other teachings.

    • Avatar ellen gaffney says:

      We are living in a Time where Evil is considered Good and Good considered Evil/ — an age where a few generations will not even understand what the theologians are telling us/ Having had 4 years study in Nursing, and learned Moral Principles by the Professor of the Juvenile Court in Chicago, Spent 2 years in Prayer as a Novice, a couple years in the Military (before Roe VS. Wad), an affiliation in Pediatric Nursing and the Study of Child Development, having had 7 children, doing back into the Nursing work force in order to care for my younger children, in a world that I feared their moral safety, as the peer group was so very strong, I learned to turn to our Blessed Mother, and my Motto is INTE Domine Speravi/ I have read a Biography on Pope Francis and know that I would never been able to walk one Mile in His Shoes. As Bishop Sheen said — We need to spend an Hour a Day in adoration.

    • Avatar Michael Siddle says:

      “but it is a mortal sin if one forms a fixed opinion of someone concerning a grave matter, or goes even further so as to openly condemn the other. It may be difficult to refrain from interiorly forming a rash judgment about another’s goodness”. What a load of rubbish. It is that type of thinking and logic that led to the sex abuse crisis. Those Theologians who are accusing Pope Francis of heresy are forming a fixed opinion on the Pope on a grave matter and you could say are openly condemning him. Their actions are based on fact and they are defending the Faith. If anything ,NOT doing so would be a mortal sin!

      • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

        Michael – “rubbish”?! you may think differently if you are ever the victim of unjust judgment that destroys your reputation. I hope you don’t have to learn this truth the hard way!

  2. Truly wonderful resource. Could you tell me more about your study group on the Summa

  3. Avatar David Scott Jamieson says:

    When a pope undermines the very faith he is called to defend then it is our duty to defend it. This pope has caused much harm to the Church and must be held accountable for his words and actions.

    • Avatar Maureen Avila says:

      St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that heretics could be executed because they are such a grave danger to souls.

      • And he also said, from the article above that only God can and will judge our Holy Father.

    • Spot on.
      Francis rarely, very very rarely says the word “Catholic”.
      Francis is not proud to be pope or bishop or Catholic. Francis is embarrassed by so many “things” Catholic.
      He is disdainful, proudly so, of very many Catholics who respect tradition. Francis does, in fact, view them (me) as the enemy.

    • Perhaps, as Joanne is saying, he is trying to help those who have little or no faith?

  4. Avatar Mary Christina Rainey says:

    I was with you until you said, “when the president boldly lies.”

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      To clarify, that was not intended to refer to any particular president, but was a generic example of how a public figure might cause scandal by a sinful action. Please excuse me if I inadvertently caused scandal by that example!

      • Avatar Caroline Jongewaard says:

        Why did you use St. John Paul’s picture instead of Francis? Little dishonest I think.

      • Daniel A. Nicholls Daniel A. Nicholls says:

        This was not the author’s choice, but mine. The fundamentals of the essay have to do with the pope irrespective of who he is, and this picture was a good fit. If you think that is dishonest or somehow sneaky, I can’t help you, but St. Thomas can. There are, of course, plenty of people who criticize St. John Paul II, and did while he was reigning.

      • Avatar Gregory Broussard says:

        It certainly is sneaky.

      • Avatar Friar Roderic says:

        Sneaky and well done. Drives the point home.

  5. Avatar Father L. says:

    Dear Joanne,

    Thank you very much for this articulate article. It is not hindered by emotions (one way or another) and is able to get at the root of the matter, as the Doctor Angelicus often does. It is precisely the destruction of virtue what the evil one is after: in the 60s he used the circumstances against Pope St. Paul VI to destroy virtue in the liberals, today, he seeks to use circumstances against Pope Francis to destroy virtue in the conservatives. In the end, the saints are not liberals or conservatives, but virtuous, hence the vehement attack of virtue: whether in conservatives or liberals.

    I am very interested in those courses you mentioned, and I would like to contact you. Please send an email.

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Father. Yes, our personal holiness is the greatest contribution we can make to the Church, and without it any other efforts are futile.
      I will see if there is a way for me to PM you (and Olivia) about our study group.

  6. Avatar Bob Greene says:

    We are called to speak the truth in love. We are also called to learn the Faith, live the Faith, and teach the Faith. The pope’s job is to teach the Faith and defend the Faith, not try to change it.

    • This pope teaches jesuit propaganda. This pope does not defend the Faith. This pope will change all that time permits him to change. It is his church. He plays for keeps. Bet on it.

  7. Avatar Kevin Rilott says:

    When Francis praised an unrepentant and politically active abortionist who personally dismembered the bodies of thousands of children in the womb calling her a “great” person he lost me.

    • Francis surrounds himself with the likes of Emma Bonino, persons who despise the Catholic Church.
      The pope’s actions speak volumes. He loves playing the character of the humble priest. What a farce.
      God bless holy Benedict.

      • Who did Jesus surround Himself with? What was His purpose in surrounding Himself with these people? Was He judged for it? Was He misunderstood? Were those who judged seeking to understand Him?

      • Jesus surrounded himself with his disciples. He did not surround himself with bad people like murderers. He allowed a woman to wash his feet. He forgave sinners but told them to sin no more.

      • Once you make up your mind you don’t like someone, you can make all kinds of arguments on why it is okay to publicly speak against that person. You can even convince yourself that you are doing it out of love for the Church and by the use of right reason, because the emotions blind your thinking. But Jesus’ words are clear: Love your enemies.
        Obviously you consider the Pope as your enemy, because you are a faithful Catholic and purportedly according to your words he is a “farce”.

        But are you “Loving your enemies” as a true faithful Catholic should do?

        P.S. I am not saying the Pope doesn’t make mistakes; what I am saying is that people that rage against him are not living their Catholic faith to the full, and may even be committing a serious sin.

  8. DS Jamieson: can you defend the faith without undermining the reputation the Holy Father? As a teacher, I frequently have students tell me that I am contradicting what they have been told by their other teachers. My response is always say something like this: “All of us make mistakes now and then, or maybe we just are misunderstood; and the more we talk, the more likely we will say something off the mark or ambiguous, or what is helpful to one member of our audience only confuses another. So I am not too worried about what my colleagues say – I am worried that you are striving to hear the truth. I don’t intend to contradict your other teachers, only to say the truth.
    If I speak the truth, you must judge that by the certainty of my argument or the reputation of the authorities that I am citing. If that seems to contradict what my colleagues are saying, then perhaps you have misunderstood what they were saying, or you did not hear everything they said, or perhaps they were just unclear or less careful than I am trying to be.”

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      I love this reply, PJO! To a great objection, DSJ! It is an important question, which requires the virtue of prudence to answer and to apply in the particular case (a virtue which is not my particular strength, I’m afraid!!) But this is a fine application of the principles. Let’s keep thinking like this! Assuming the best of others.

    • Awesome response.

      • Avatar Tom Healey says:

        Excellent Joanne, PJO has a deeper understanding of one of the bad fruits of Original Sin…..our DARKENED INTELLECTS. Our fallen capacity for confusion, selfdeception, without going into great details, has no practical limits. And we are appallingly blind to our ontological fault.

        And maybe I missed something, and honestly I usually side with Trads, Canon 212 being one, …….I cannot pretend that PF doesn’t cause endless scandal, when even if the best possible interpretation is placed on the endless stream of outrages that flow from his lips. And a supreme irony for me is that it often takes someone with theological training and an understanding of just how wounded we are, to “INTERPRET” his endless opinions for their true meaning and intent……Popes are morally required to speak clearly and simply, the truths of our Catholic Faith in order to teach and to AVOID scandal. Yet not only does Francis speak at best drivel, and do things that defy church doctrine, but that he has a habit of attacking faithful Catholics for taking him to task. If I were to sum up my understanding of this man I would have to say he is a slave of demonic pride.

        And I know THIS about myself by Sanctifying Graces, so this comment of mine doesn’t come from The Angelic Doctor, whom I’ve never read. That I too am subject to influences that defy Right Reason…. However, reading your post helps me to see what a great SPIRITUAL genius Thomas was.

        Back to my point…..those who defend Francis focus on scandal supposedly caused by those who criticize him. They seem impervious to the scandals that he has caused. How many borderline Catholics have given up, lost their faith, because of the supposed “ambiguity” of so much of what he says and does. He will be judged by God.

  9. Avatar GUY MCCLUNG says:

    Based on what some have called the “Bergoglian heresies,” bashing Jorge Bergoglio, correcting him, slamming him, excoriating him, chiding him, charitably pointing things out to him, telling him about one’s doubts about what he has published and proclaimed -call it whatever you wish – because on his own stated principles (called by some at the level of the church’s magisterium) “no one can be condemend forever,” including those who engage in the bashing, etc.; and as he has said on several occasions in general and in person to persons engaged voluntarily in fornication/homosexual acts, “God made you this way.”

    Why does this not apply to the bashers, etc: God made them this way – to bash etc. – so they do no wrong, they do no intrinsic evil, they do no sin. Re scandal-same conclusion: God made me this way and if it gives scandal for me to bash, etc., that is God’s will. And a la Amoris Laetitia, the bashers etc MUST be integrated into the daily community life of the church.

    If you now think of the counterarguments to this silliness (that is based on and extends Jorge Bergoglio’s own alleged principles), counterarguments that jump to mind immediately, notice they are based on principles contrary to the Bergoglian heresies. Guy McClung, Texas

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      Thank you, Guy M: Here’s are the fallacies I’m seeing in this argument:
      To say “no one is condemned forever (False)” is not the same thing as “no one sins (F).” And actually what the Pope says is neither: “everyone in this life can be forgiven (True).”
      Again to say “God made me this way [with a disordered inclination] (F)” is not the same as “I am not guilty of sin (F).” But again, neither is the same as what the Pope says: “we all have disordered inclinations because of the Fall and need the Church’s grace to avoid sin (T).”
      See what I’m saying?! When we clarify the premises of an argument, we can give the other the benefit of the doubt and still proclaim the truth! Praised be Jesus Christ! Both now and forever!

  10. Avatar MIKE MEREDITH says:

    Good Job Joanne!

    Hope you don’t mind I posted link on Facebook.

    -Mike M.

  11. Avatar Steven Rafferty says:

    Thanks Joanne for your excellent article! it has helped in a major way by giving the benefit of the doubt to all my brothers and sisters who ever they may be. I’ve struggled for years with rash judgements with many trips to the confessional.Also it has broke my heart to see Pope Francis not being treated with the same benefit of the doubt only God knows his heart and motivations.Thanks again Joanne. Sincerely Steve Rafferty ofs

  12. Avatar Gabriella Valente says:

    The argument presented in this essay is basically a repackaging of Ultramontanism with cherry picked quotes to support it. St Thomas, like the Bible can be taken out of context to support almost anything.

    The Pope cannot just teach whatever he wants; his role is to explain and deepen the faith which was given to the Apostles by Jesus. Papal teaching must be supported by the magisterium of the church by referencing Scripture, Patristic writings, the teachings of church councils, the writings of previous Popes. He must show that he is not adding anything new to the faith by demonstrating how what he is teaching links to what the Church has taught and discussed throughout its history. To put this in simple terms, if we compare the Pope to a President, the magisterium is the constitution. Presidents cannot do whatever they want and they can be challenged by those who deem that the President is afoul of the constitution. Even non constitutional monarchs must be challenged when their acts violate natural law, I.e. Nathan castigating King David. According to your reasoning, St Paul was showing a lack of piety when he openly challenged and castigated St Peter at the Council of Jerusalem.

  13. Avatar Joanne Baker says:

    Thank you, Gabriella, this is a great objection! Ultramontanism was a term coined by Protestants as an attack on the Catholic Church, which they said is to put the Pope above “the plain teaching” of one’s own conscience. (Cath Encyc) But in your comment I think you’ mean putting the Pope’s teaching above Christ’s. So the answer would involve an understanding of magisterial authority in connection with Christ’s authority.

    An important distinction: we owe religious assent of intellect and will (as a minimum) to magisterial teaching, while Piety is not about assent to teaching, but about reverence and service to the person and office. Not the same thing. The former is not something I address in this article, though I have written another article on it (yet to be published). However, if you think I have misinterpreted St. Thomas on piety, I would love to hear your objection to that.

    Also please see how I already addressed your objection on Sts. Paul and Peter in the section of this article: “Usurped Judgment.”

  14. Avatar Helen Weir says:

    Thank you for finally explaining, with such clarity and conviction, what it was that Neville Chamberlain could possibly have been thinking.

  15. The very premise of this piece is false: of course it’s not a virtue to criticize the pope. The question should be: is it ever okay to do so, to which the answer is yes, within limits and conditions of course. It is interesting the author doesn’t cite writers and doctors of the Church who have explicitly addressed the issue of criticizing a pope, but only relies on her interpretation and conclusions taken from indirect material from St. Thomas. No offense but this also shows the danger of letting unqualified people be armchair theologians, who run amok on the internet. (Pursuing a master’s degree doesn’t make expertise.)

    • It is right to criticise a pope when he is wrong.

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      David: according to St. Thomas, every intentional (moral) act is either virtuous or vicious. If it is objectively directed to our God as our end, it is virtuous; if not, it is vicious. (This does not mean that the act always proceeds from a habit of virtue or vice, though.) I approached the question from the angle of a virtue because that is the objective standard for judging a moral act.

  16. As Francis is the reigning pope, facts about his pontificate are naturally obfuscated by our passions. But what about past popes? Do you think it would be improper to judge Alexander VI (the obvious example of bad pope)? Wouldn’t it cause scandal among the pious to criticize his life style? And what about bad priests and bishops? Shouldn’t we keep it to ourselves out of fear to scandalize the little ones who trust them?

    In end, it all is matter of individual prudential evaluation.

    • > In end, it all is matter of individual prudential evaluation.

      This kind of thinking is a consequence of individualism, which is rampant today. “individual prudential evaluation” is not what matters in the end, since “individual prudential” evaluation can destroy your soul if you make the wrong decision.

      As a matter of fact, one of the components of the virtue of prudence is counsel, which is the desire and willingness to seek counsel from others in order to make prudent decisions; it is not the individual that matters, but Jesus and how He wants us to live. So in the end, what really matters is virtue and being holy which is the only way to go to heaven.

    • > Do you think it would be improper to judge Alexander VI (the obvious example of bad pope)?

      It is not improper because:
      1) At this point in history, the Church herself has made a judgment on Pope Alexander VI.
      2) It is not my or your “individual” judgment, but the judgment of history and the Church

      Also –you may ask yourself– what about St. Catherine of Siena, who criticized the Pope?
      1) St. Catherine was asked by the Pope himself to give him counsel
      2) She criticized the Pope’s actions in person, and she told the Pope herself. She didn’t put it on public media for other people to read (her writings/letters were for public consumption only afterwards).
      3) She was a saint, with a particular mission from God for that time in history.

  17. Avatar Eric Pierce says:

    Maybe were just spoiled by our recent popes but PF is a challenge for me and many others. I also try to remember that Jesus came to challenge the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I actually started to read your article because at some level I was hoping that you were going to justify criticizing the Pope. Wouldn’t it be great if the Angelic Doctor could be used against PF? Instead you have given me some things to seriously think about. I thank you for that. It would seem that perhaps many of the commenters are disappointed that you did not justify their actions. Please don’t take their attacks on you as detracting from the excellent service that you have provided.

  18. Eric,

    You are on your way to holiness. The foundation of holiness –without which grace can’t penetrate– is humility, and you showed this wonderfully in your post when you said that you came “hoping that you were going to justify criticizing the Pope” but then learned much from the article, and are now thinking seriously about it.

    Although I think in a way that is very different from Our Pope today, I can honestly say that he has produced a tremendous amount of spiritual growth in me. It all happened when Amoris Laetitia came out.

    When I first read it, I logically saw that the document could be interpreted in a way according to tradition, but I also saw that this was very difficult to do, and that some sentences in the document were ambiguous and could be easily interpreted in the wrong way (i.e. against the tradition of the Church).

    Then I got upset, and I found myself at a crossroads. I felt a keen and intense desire to “break” internally with the Pope. To remove my reverence and assent of the will. This interior battle was one of the hardest ones I have had to fight. I struggled deeply with this problem, until the words of the Gospel flashed through my mind: “And you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”.

    When these words came through my mind I realized that if I “interiorly” broke with the Pope, I would be breaking with the Words of Him to whom I have given my life: Jesus Himself. At that moment I made a final and determinate decision:

    “I will not be the judge of Peter”,

    and I made a prayer to God:

    “Lord, my God, I don’t understand why Our Pope wrote in this manner. But I believe Your words, and I will suspend any judgment of Our Holy Father. If you ever want me to understand, I will gladly accept the gift, but whatever happens I will *not* be the judge of the Pope.”

    For six months I prayed often about this matter always with a kind of sadness in my heart, and one day, out of the blue, I received an understanding of why the Pope wrote in this ambiguous manner and how God will use it for His Glory and the sanctification of souls.

    Then I realized that the violent temptation I had experienced against the Pope was rooted in two things: 1) my own pride, 2) demonic temptation which was building on my own pride.

    Only the grace of humility saved me from falling deep, and for this reason I want to encourage you. I have great peace and joy today, something that would have never happened unless I had humbled myself before the words of Matthew 16:18.

    I will be praying for you, and may the Lord fill you with his grace.

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      Thank you, Eric and Father, for sharing your personal experiences! How good is the Lord! I started with a real question I wanted answered. Turning to my saintly mentor, I dove into the second part of the Summa and followed where he led me. This article documents that thought process. Like you, I put it to prayer, knowing all too well the weakness of my fallen nature: the darkness of my intellect, the selfishness of my will, and the unruliness of my desires. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Lk 11:9 My prayers go, too, with all who read this article.

  19. That depends on who you think the pope is……

    • If you have any doubt, it is good to know that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI promised obedience to his successor –even before the successor was elected– and has many times shown that obedience by his actions and words with respect to Pope Francis.

      The last time he publicly showed that obedience was by asking permission to publish the excellent commentary he wrote about the abuse crisis, here is a quote from Pope (Emeritus) Benedict’s essay:

      “Having contacted the Secretary of State, Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin and the Holy Father [Pope Francis] himself, it seemed appropriate to publish this text in the Klerusblatt.”

      You can read the full essay here:

  20. My two cents. I love the Pope no matter who he is, he is the Vicar of Christ on earth chosen by the Holy Spirit. No one has the graces to be Pope, other than the Pope himself. If you condemn Pope Francis, you are condemning God Himself….that should cause some to pause before criticizing him. Better to read the Pope’s documents instead of listening to websites like Lifesitenews, Catholic Militant…etc, whom I would bet have never even read the Pope’s encyclicals from start to finish. St. Catherine of Siena had an issue with the Pope, but instead of bashing him, she traveled to meet him in person. So, if you have an issue with the Pope, talk with your priest, your bishop, or even write to the Pope himself.

    Here is a quote from Pope St. Pius X:

    ‘Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey – that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.’

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      Thanks, Chris. That quote is from:
      Allocution ‘Vi ringrazio’ to priests on the 50th anniversary of the Apostolic Union
      Saint Pius X, November 18, 1912

  21. Avatar GUY MCCLUNG says:

    What follow is not ‘pope bashing’- it is faithful catholics crying out for truth and gnashing their teeth, just as faithful catholics did when whole dioceses, every priest and every bishop, was an Arian hereitic in the 5th century. When tssoe like St Athnasius and other saints publicly called these men “heretics,” this was not ‘bashing’ in any form. This was thet truth, what their faith and their God required them to do. Guy McClung, Texas

    “April 30, 2019 – Prominent clergymen and scholars including Fr. Aidan Nichols, one of the best-known theologians in the English-speaking world, have issued an open letter accusing Pope Francis of committing heresy. They ask the bishops of the Catholic Church, to whom the open letter is addressed, to “take the steps necessary to deal with the grave situation” of a pope committing this crime.

    The authors base their charge of heresy on the manifold manifestations of Pope Francis’ embrace of positions contrary to the faith and his dubious support of prelates who in their lives have shown themselves to have a clear disrespect for the Church’s faith and morals.

    “We take this measure as a last resort to respond to the accumulating harm caused by Pope Francis’s words and actions over several years, which have given rise to one of the worst crises in the history of the Catholic Church,” the authors state. The open letter is available in Dutch, Italian, German, French, and Spanish.

    Among the signatories are well-respected scholars such as Father Thomas Crean, Fr. John Hunwicke, Professor John Rist, Dr. Anna Silvas, Professor Claudio Pierantoni, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and Dr. John Lamont. The text is dated “Easter Week” and appears on the traditional Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena, a saint who counseled and admonished several popes in her time.

    Life Site News today

    • Dear Guy, That letter was an open letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church. Why was it made open to all of us? What father of a family enjoys his real or imagined, or conceived, or taken-out-of-context, or true or imagined sins or ‘heresies’ aired out all over the internet for all to see? Is not our duty as Catholics to love and pray for our Holy Father, to listen to him, to humbly submit to him out of love for Our Savior Jesus Christ, and to leave the things we do not understand, either to our prayers or leave them alone? How are we going to listen to the Vicar of Christ on earth if we are clamoring every day for criticisms of him, his actions and his words?
      As Chris said below, shouldn’t we be full of sorrow that our Holy Father has been continually publicly humiliated? Praise in public and criticize in private?
      Because I have chosen by an act of my will to obey Our Holy Father, I feel no confusion over him and his words and actions. God Bless you

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      Jimmy Akin has responded to the Open Letter, explaining that the authors have not supported the case for heresy. Check it out on his site.

      • Avatar Dave Jamieson says:

        To provide a competing perspective, an excerpt from Lifesitenews, “Fr. George W. Rutler, author and pastor of St. Michael’s parish in New York, critiqued Akin’s dismissal of the original signers of the letter as “incompetent and unqualified,” saying that Akin is an amateur of uncertain academic achievements whereas Fr. Aidan Nichols is “one of the most distinguished theologians in the English-speaking world.”

  22. Very well done Joanne! Just one small point. Your 2 examples, one of an objectively evil act being defined as sin and the other (use of contraception) needing prudential consideration, need further explanation given that the Catechism defines the use of contraception as inherently evil. I think I know what you are saying but a bit more information would clarify things.

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      Could you supply quotes for the 2 examples your referring to, Stephen? I don’t think I mentioned contraception, and I’m not sure what the other one is you mentioned.

      • Second last paragraph of Just Judgement. I interpreted “fertility methods” to include contraception.

        “When a man brags about an adulterous relationship, we are right to judge that action wrong, but when he chooses to space his children by practicing fertility methods, it may be rash for us to judge that act.”

      • Stephen,

        Fertility method is not the same as contraception. Contraception is an intrinsic evil. Contraception becomes a sin because the couple *does not want God to create a life*, and yet wants the conjugal act. You can commit the sin of contraception even with Church approved fertility methods, because the sin is primarily in the act of the will.

        The Church approved fertility methods (NFP- Natural family planning), like Naprotechnology, Billings, etc have to be used with an openness to life, the attitude needs to be: “If God wants to create a life we accept it, but we will use this morally permissible method because we don’t think we can care/love this Child as God would want; nonetheless we are open to His Will if He wants to give us a new baby”.

        If the attitude of a couple using NFP is “We don’t want God to create a life” then they are committing the sin of contraception just like the couple that uses the pill or other contraceptives.

      • Thanks Father, Your comments add greatly to my understanding of NFP and give the needed clarity.

        Suggested Change to text: “When a man brags about an adulterous relationship, we are right to judge that action wrong. However when he chooses to limit the number and spacing of his children it may be rash for us to judge. We are unlikely to know whether he does or doesn’t practice a Church approved fertility method (e.g. Natural Family Planning). We cannot assume that he has not been completely open to God’s will and the creation of new life, or not repented and confessed of that sin, and therefore in a state of sin. We should give him the benefit of the doubt. ”

      • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

        Thank you, Father. I see your difficulty, Stephen. Contraception is in no way a “fertility method” so I did not anticipate this problem. The 2 examples are to contrast an objectively immoral act with an act that CAN be immoral but is NOT inherently so, and is therefore a prudential decision. Perhaps it would be more clear to replace the 2 examples with contraception vs. postponing conception by marital abstinence.

        The reason this point is relevant is because we can justly “judge the sin” only when it is an objectively immoral act, not when it is a prudential decision about which we are ignorant of the intention and circumstances.

      • Thanks Joanne, It is tricky though! It got me thinking, where can we actually apply the concept of an objectively immoral act?

        There is actually no clear separation between an objectively immoral act and one requiring a prudential decision when we judge the morality of the acts of others; because only God can judge that. For example, the degree of responsibility (In God’s eyes) that someone has for using contraception is on a continuum from 0-100%; depending on many factors that are beyond our knowledge. That would also be true for murder and abortion etc.. Even the bragging adulterer may be bragging for reasons that remove some of his responsibility (deep psychological damage inflicted by others).

        We of course should make judgements concerning the morality of the acts of others in an objective way, after prayer and discernment, in order to modify our interaction with others that may need to be treated with caution. God given ‘authorities’ also make laws/rules and apply justice and punishments for certain objectively defined acts. I therefore think that the concept of an objectively immoral act (by others) only exists in regards to practical considerations (managing personal interactions or the law and justice); all judgement regarding the sinfulness of the acts of others is therefore a prudential decision.

        How we judge ourselves is a totally different story. We should always judge ourselves against what is deemed as immoral in an objective way.

  23. It is a noble and necessarily thing to correct a pope who does not teach God’s word and laws – for the salvation of souls.

    • It is never noble, and much less necessary, to perform an act which is not virtuous.

      The reason is that virtue is what brings us to heaven, and God never requires us to do an act that which will *not* bring us closer to heaven.

      There are three theological virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, 3) Charity and four cardinal virtues: 4) Justice, 5) Prudence, 6) Temperance and 7) Fortitude.

      Criticizing the pope in the way people are doing it lately you can go against 1) or 2) or 3) or 4) or 5) or 6); or against all or a group of them together.

      Anytime a saint is canonized their life is studied, and a book called a “positio” is written. It contains the witness from people that knew the person as to how they lived the different virtues. The canonization process only advances if they lived the virtues to a heroic degree. This is why Joanne’s article is so important, because it gives the criteria to determine the types of criticism that can be done in a virtuous way.

      • Father, I have a favor to ask, if it is God’s will!

        I have asked several members of the clergy to make some assessment of my writings (now posted in my linked Web site). Several priests have provided great spiritual assistance through casual talks and friendship, blessings and prayers but very little help in the assessment of my writings. I think that may be God’s plan so that I find truth slowly, making improvements and corrections as I go, through prayer and perseverance.

        Could you please have a look at my Web site but only if you feel God calling you to do so! My aim is to make it as easy as possible for people to believe in God and the Catholic Church. My other aim is to describe our spiritual path from agnostic to holiness in a concise and accessible way. I hope there is no heresy! Joanne may be able to provide you with my email if you would like to contact me!

    • Avatar Dave Jamieson says:

      Amen. A pope must protect Truth as defined by Tradition, Magisterium and Scripture. When he does not, he must be corrected. Failure to do so would be a dereliction of faith.

  24. I feel if you’re going to at least correct someone, anyone, even the Pope, you do it in private, whether a letter or in person. As a leader myself, I would never have published what the dubia Cardinals did for ALL to see. I understand why they did it, but again, not appropriate to do it publicly. They could have went to Pope Francis in private to do so. Perhaps, doing so in private the dubia Cardinals may have had a more prosperous outcome. Bottom line, praise in public and admonish in private.

    • Avatar Thomas Bates says:

      The “Dubia Cardinals” first contacted the Pope privately. It was only when the Pope did not answer their letter that they published it.

      • He did answer the letter. . . with silence. You mean that he didn’t answer it to their liking?

      • The Dubia Cardinals, are Cardinals after all, and could have requested an audience with Pope Francis. Did they ask for an audience with the Pope to personally ask him?

    • The report in NC Register says that they first sent the letter to him privately; he did not respond, so they published:
      “Consistent with his tendency of so far not responding to concerns about the apostolic exhortation, the Holy Father also did not reply to their request, although sources confirm that he did receive it.
      The cardinals therefore said they “have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect” and “are informing the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the documentation.””

      • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

        According to St. Thomas’ principles, a public correction is not a fraternal correction but a judgment. There is the possibility that such an act is Just:
        “Judgment is virtuous when its end is justice, and when it is delivered by one with the authority to judge, and when it follows the rule of prudence regarding the right circumstances.”
        But judgment out of malice, or on mere suspicion, or by an incompetent person is immoral.

        Honestly, it is preferable to judge the merits of the Dubia text itself, and not presume to judge the authors. Same re: the “open letter.”

      • ‘Honestly, it is preferable to judge the merits of the Dubia text itself, and not presume to judge the authors. Same re: the “open letter.””
        This precision and siatinction between judging an author’s statements version the author himself seems to suggest that one can judge the Holy Father’s statements as false without judging the Holy Father as being himself in error. I would therefore suggest clarification: news media statements made off the cuff, and perhaps misreported or stated in infelicotous ways can be judged false without sin, but those official statements made by the Holy Father can only be judged theologians who are expert in the field and only privately among other theologians of similar competence in the matter, and then in a humble way that does not suggest disrespect for the person or pontifical office
        I think that is the way of St. Paul, though he challenged Peter to his face and to the Christians of .Galatia.

      • But PJO, does someone become more theological qualified to understand truth in a faith based statement based on how or where a statement is produced? If the pope made a faith based statement at a party would it mean drunks were then worthy of making judgement?

        May be it is a sin to judge the Pope for a reported false statement presented as fact if we don’t go to the trouble to check the facts, and also seek understanding in his true statements through humble prayer.

        It is interesting that when St Paul corrected St Peter it was to relax a traditional Jewish legal requirement for the gentile converts.

      • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

        PJO that statement I made about judging the Dubia vs. the authors of the Dubia does require further clarification. There is the internal judgment one may need to make before an action versus the external judgment one may not have to make at all.

        Again there is the judgment of “things” vs. the judgment of “persons.” St. Thomas says that the rule for judging things (and I take that to mean propositions) is truth, whereas the rule for judging persons is kindness. It would be immoral to be too certain about our own opinion without enough evidence, even when it comes to judging “things.” I do think we are too quick to judge people’s words as materially false (or heretical!), when they are simply ambiguous. And then to go on to judge that person as formally a heretic based on that ambiguity would be one step further in the wrong direction.

  25. What has been asked for of the Holy Father publicly and Universally over and over again, over several years now, was simple CLARIFICATION. Which has been ignored by him OVER AND OVER AGAIN. “I will not say another word on this.” …..has been his mantra, not only for the newest sexual abuse crisis, but in general. The Dubia he has refused to answer, along with many petitions to him asking him to clarify his proclamations on many things. When there is a non answer, it is basically an ANSWER. What he is saying to the faithful is this: “The way you interpreted my non Catholic proclamations is they way I meant you to interpret them.” Many of them are interpreted as ‘heretical’. It is what it is….it’s not rocket science. He refuses to clarify his statements, therefore, he refuses to speak with clarity in proclaiming the truth of Christ in His Church, and a good number of his ‘teachings’ are not only non Catholic, but non Christian in general. You can call that ‘heresy’ or whatever you want to coin it, but it’s time someone that has the authority call him out on his anti Catholic ‘teachings’. It’s actually charitable to do so rather than allow error to infiltrate true Church teaching.

  26. I do identify with many of the critical comments towards the current Papacy posted above. I think one of the issues we have to deal with is time scale; God exists out of time and we are confined to a very limited space on the time continuum, so we want things done right now. It doesn’t work that way. We have to have “masonic patience” (ouch, it hurts saying that) and let things roll out the way the Lord has it planned. So I pray for Frances (admittedly not as much as I should), and don’t much read what he says because it seems other Popes and theologians have said it better. I hope I’m not being “lukewarm” and in danger of being spit out, but I think that the best way of dealing with a situation we can’t is through prayer and especially the Rosary, turning it all over to those in control.

  27. Dear dear Joanne, THANK YOU thank you ThAnK YoU for this wonderful wonderful article, especially in light of the insidious Open Letter meant for the Bishops of the Catholic Church but somehow disseminated to all of the faithful and to the world as well ( that dissemination, I believe, is the very reason I believe it becomes insidious)!!!

    Your article gives the four Marks of the Catholic Church, that She is : ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC, deeper, richer and more wonderful meaning.

    I wish you were my next-door neighbor! I would come running over and would want to sit with you and talk all things St. Thomas Aquinas and conversion and how to live as a Catholic, how to be a good mother, wife and Saint! How to evangelize and how to have a deferential reverence for the Vicar of Christ on earth, Our Holy Father Pope Francis! !

    I have printed your article, have read it and re-read it and plan to study it more and more. I plan to read it to my friends tonight who are in my Amoris Laetitia club. I will be interrupting our normal reading of the document to read your article to them, so that we can combat the demonic attacks against Our Holy Father.

    Is it okay with you if I give copies of this article of yours to everyone I know?

    Thank you once again and God Bless you!!!

    • Avatar Dave Jamieson says:

      “Amoris Laetitia club”…the koolaid has been drunk to the dregs…

    • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Jane! I’m glad you are getting together with others to discuss important questions about the Faith. May God reward your efforts! I’m working on putting up a website, and will post the link soon. Hope we can connect there.

      • Thank you Joanne. Please email me whenever you would like to do so. I must say that this article of yours is so very important in light of what is going on right now with the Open Letter. I am posting this comment wherever I can:
        Pope Francis has answered this open letter — with silence. Christ our Savior did the same. The Scribes and Pharisees and Priests of the Law knew the law and the prophets in and out, through and through. The were the Canon Lawyers of the day, the Theologians who interpreted the Law, judged and Law and protected the Law, the 10 Commandments, etc. And they deemed Christ our Savior not only worthy of a slap on the wrist, or a fine, or even an Open Letter condemning him as a heretic for all the world to see. They deemed Him worthy of practically being flayed alive, tortured, beat, kicked, spit upon, and then finally crucified. Can we expect the Vicar of Christ to be subject to any less than public humiliation and condemnation? I recently read a marvelous article :… in which the author, a homeschooling mother of 8 cites many quotes of St. Thomas Aquinas to show how much against virtue it is to openly judge and condemn the Pope as these folks have done. It’s an amazing article and I highly recommend it.
        For some reason Christ our Savior chose to use the animal sheep as His animal of choice for all of us. He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. If you look at sheep, they seem real stupid, always keeping their noses to the ground eating grass and just ambling around. They follow after the one person that herds them around. They might be cute and fluffy but they are really just kind-of stupid it seems. However, in their ‘stupidity’ they are very wise since they are following the one person who will protect them and keep them safe from the wolves. By following the one Shepherd’s Vicar, we might appear stupid, but we are very wise. We are keeping ourselves safe from the wolves. God Bless you

        I have read this article of yours thoroughly 3 times now and plan to study it many more times. It is providing a very profound conversion in my own soul. THANK YOU and God Bless you. I will be looking forward to your website

  28. Avatar R Cross says:

    Perhaps we should not judge the Pope, as Mrs Baker enjoins us, nor presume to correct him; but in the current situation, neither should our Christian default be to assent to his teaching. I would suggest that we ignore him and encourage others to do the same.

    Ignoring someone risks a passive-aggressive form of judgment to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be. The moral and spiritual basis for conscientious ignoring, comes down to a simple psychological reality, which is, you can’t prudentially assent to or follow what you do not understand or believe. Of course, this approach risks making the mistake of those who ignore Humanae Vitae, and use the Pill to limit births. But there is an important difference in that HV was consistent with the perennial magisterium of the Church, whereas many of the novel statements of Pope Francis do not appear to conform to the perennial magisterium (e.g., his evident sympathies toward Marxist theory and socialists governments seems to run way clear of Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, and Centesimus Annos.)

    This is the principle involved: One cannot follow a teacher’s instruction if it is confusing. The confusion can arise in at least two ways. (1) the instruction is incoherent in itself, making it impossible to follow, or (2) the instruction is clear on its own terms, but appears to contradict a better known instruction from another teacher/Pope. In this second way, it means that the new instruction is commonly understood to be mutually exclusive of the older traditional instruction. Because our conscience is set up to find a normative way to apply natural and divine law, a teaching that encourages us not to follow the law cannot in good conscience be followed. As the saying goes, (I think it was Wojtyla) the conscience does not legislate, it seeks to follow the law. If

    I think most devout Catholics have opted for the second way, without coming right out and saying that they are ignoring Francis. For example, a theologian recently said that he only reads Amoris Latitiae in a manner that is consistent with the previous magisterium, especially as it was articulated by JP2. I think this is another way of saying that he is ignoring the controversial parts of AL Chapter 8. I would go one step further, and simply ignore AL altogether. The previous teaching on marriage is clear enough. If I judge AL to be not helpful, it is only to say that it cannot in my mind be squared with previous magisterium. (A similar argument can be made on the question of capital punishment.)

    Francis is the first pope in my lifetime of nearly 70 years who seems to attack people who hold to the traditional teaching on sex and marriage. I say “seems” because when I used to follow his statements, he would one day endorse the idea of traditional marriage, and then at some other point attack those as pharisaical who would refer to remarriage as “adultery”. As I read AL, he never allows the use of the terms adultery or infidelity as being pertinent to our present era.

    It may be that Pope Francis himself has followed this rule of ignoring teaching. He completely ignored Veritatis Splendor in AL (which is quite a feat given the centrality of VS in showing the intricate relation of natural law to Church moral doctrine). I am not judging Bergoglio’s motives, but just observe that ignoring something can be a way of either disagreeing with it or not understanding it. Our current Pontiff seems to disparage those who follow the law, or at least some laws, so perhaps he provides his us with a dispensation from listening to him.

    • “The Rule of Ignoring Teaching”, for when we lack understanding or are in disagreement. You said it!

      • Avatar Joanne Baker says:

        We are required to “assent” to magisterial teaching, not “ignore” it. Off-the-cuff comments are not magisterial teaching, so those just require a respectful response from the virtue of piety, not assent. Of course our assent to a mag. statement is as interpreted according to the “mind of the Church.” Again that’s a whole new article. I do like PJO’s comment about being bleating sheep to our pastors and bishops! :-)

      • Thanks for responding Joanne, I actually regretted posting this comment and I was glad when it appeared to be rejected and surprised when it later appeared. However sometimes it is good to be blunt. I was actually trying to take your advice by focusing on the words and not the person by presenting R Cross’s justification, using their words, in a concise way so it is easier to reflect on the value of following such a recommendation.

        Is it possible to show respectful piety to Off-the-cuff comments of the pope without assent?

        An off-the-cuff comment can also be totally consistent with magisterial teaching so wouldn’t it be wise to show assent to all comments (infallible or not!; most of us don’t know that we don’t know). If the pope rebukes someone who is to say that it is not wise to assent to that rebuke even if he apologizes later? I believe the clergy are called to submit to the pope concerning infallible statements (submission could include an approval to offer a correction!)

        Yes I agree PJO’s suggestion to seek answers from priests and bishops was good advise. We do need to be open to correction though! PJO’s last sentence made be sad and frustrated!

      • Correction! That should be non-infallible statements as in “[I believe the clergy are called to submit to the pope concerning non-infallible statements (submission could include an approval to offer a correction!)

    • I largely agree with your advice to “ignore”, though “ignore” is certainly the wrong verb. For even St. Paul was difficult to.understand, as St. Peter notes.. One should generally make a concerted attempt to understand one’s superiors. When that fails, ask. In this case, that is impractical since few have access to the Pope, so we ask our bishop, our priest, or well-informed and intelligent friends, not seeking those who will tickle our ears but who will correct our ignorance and errors. But obviously some things are beyond our abilities, so in very difficult and nuanced questions, most of us must just stick to our catechism and the sensum fidelis that flows through grace and the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

      We must also be careful not to judge those Christians who have a special mandate from the Holy Ghost to correct the Holy Father. St. Paul was an apostle and had the duty to correct Peter, and analogously our bishops have a duty to correct the Holy Father when/if he causes scandal. Privately write your local ordinary if you are so inspired and tell him how confused you are, how unsettled you are, bleat like sheep surrounded by wolves and in need of a shepherd. The Scripture prophesies that our Shepherds will become self-serving at the expense of the sheep, and history has shown us that even Popes can become wolves, but not all bishops are this way. Remember Athanasius against the world? So bleat for help and maybe your local ordinary will have the wisdom and courage to speak with clarity. Maybe he might even be so inspired to castigate Peter to his face should that be needed.

    • Dear R Cross, When we are faced with an opportunity to learn and grow we can be like a scared child learning to swim. We can tightly hold the side of the swimming pool (The Law) for security. It takes trust and faith to let go of our support and float in the refreshing waters (of love and mercy).

      A quote from AL Chapter 8 “[By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.]”

  29. Avatar Katherine Yost says:

    Thank you so much for this reasonable, intelligent, prudent, and charitable response. Much needed.
    Thank you!

  30. Avatar R Cross says:

    The comments above on requirement to assent to the magisterium, and on the black/white judgment do not escape the law of non-contradiction. I would say, that yes, there is security in the law of non-contradiction, and wishing to ignore it reduces your thinking into chaos. One cannot assent to a magisterial teaching that contradicts a previously accepted magisterial teaching. There must be a resolution that shows that there is no contradiction, before the assent can occur. This goes for the interpretation of AL on adultery, and on the recent change to the CCC on capital punishment. By any common reading, both of these examples contradict previous magisterium. If I assent to the former, I cannot assent to the latter–or vice-versa. Pope Francis has been requested to make clarifications on the adultery issue (in the “dubia”) which he has refused to comment. He provides no refutation of the previous magisterium on morality of capital punishment. The problem he presents the faithful is simple: he is asking us to ignore the previous magisterium and to accept his novel magisterium, on adultery and capital punishment. He asks us to reject or ignore the other popes, and to submit to him. This is a recipe for anarchy. Yes, i find security in the law of non-contradiction.

    • I am asking you to consider that the contractions you comprehend are due to your inability to understand!

      Your disrespect for the Pope is clear. Does that say anything about your relationship with Jesus?

      Understanding is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Do you think understanding would be more likely or less likely to be offered to those who disrespect Christ’s representative? I would say less likely!

      Remember, if we want salvation through the Law, we must follow all of the Law! Which is of course impossible and why we need the grace and mercy of Jesus. The Law defines sin and without sin we have no need for mercy (without the side of the pool we have no pool and no water. Yes we need the Law!; However if our pool is empty of water there is no mercy or salvation)

      Canon Law. 331 “[The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.]”

      Some quotes from “THE PRIMACY OF THE SUCCESSOR OF PETER IN THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH By the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

      “[In the divine plan for the primacy as “the office that was given individually by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be handed on to his successors”,15 we already see the purpose of the Petrine charism, i.e., “the unity of faith and communion” 16 of all believers. The Roman Pontiff, as the Successor of Peter, is “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity both of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful” 17 and therefore he has a specific ministerial grace for serving that unity of faith and communion which is necessary for the Church to fulfill her saving mission.]” ……..

      …”[The ultimate and absolute responsibility of the Pope is best guaranteed, on the one hand, by its relationship to Tradition and fraternal communion and, on the other, by trust in the assistance of the Holy Spirit who governs the Church. But, at the same time, it is clear that only the Pope (or the Pope with an Ecumenical Council) has, as the Successor of Peter, the authority and the competence to say the last word on the ways to exercise his pastoral ministry in the universal Church. ]”…….

    • What the Catechism has to say about obedience to the Pope’s non-infallible teachings including getting a better understanding of Revelation! Is it anarchy or being in communion with the Church?

      892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent”422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

  31. How can we spread this wonderful article EVERYWHERE especially in light of the recent “Declaration of Truths, ” ?