|St Paul - publicly admonished St Peter|
Surprisingly, some 25 years ago the debate was being aired perhaps for the first time in many centuries and the following is an extract from an article in Catholic Order by a John J Mulloy.
Bishops: Private Admonition and Public Rebuke:
"Several factors must be taken into account when considering this issue. Ordinarily, public rebuke is not to be engaged until private admonition has failed. But the experience of ever so many parents and orthodox Catholics shows that, where many Bishops are concerned, private admonition has no affect whatever. In fact, it is difficult even to get to see a Bishop when he knows that people are going to remonstrate with him concerning the way he is administering his episcopal office.
Most Bishops are mass media conscious and that means that they think in terms of avoiding adverse publicity; hence, only abuses which get into the media have the note of reality for them. As a consequence, these Bishops cannot be reached by by private admonitions, but only by some adverse criticism in the newspapers or on television.
As a general rule, without public criticism, most Bishops are unreachable.
The second question is whether, granting the fact that Bishops will not respond to private admonition, it is permissible to rebuke them publicly or not. In other words, is the layman's only recourse to suffer in silence and let widespread abuses against the teaching of the Catholic faith and morality go without any public notice being taken of it? Or does the pastoral responsibility attaching to the office of the Bishop demand that others call attention to his neglect of his crucial duties, when he ignores them or pretends that he has no such obligations?
In the period prior to Vatican II, the attitude of the ordinary Catholic lay person (in the United States) was to assume that public criticism or rebuke of a Bishop was never justified. But this was a period when Bishops generally were staunch upholders of Catholic faith and morality., and were strongly committed to the defence of Papal authority. These facts naturally created a certain attitude towards Bishops which arose out of the particular conditions of the era.
The perios since Vatican II, however, has seen such a radical change in the attitude of Bishops toward the protection of Catholic doctrine and towards the administration of their diocese that re-examination of this previous assumption is now in order......"
Interesting that the same issues that applied 25 years or more ago are just as relevant today.
Many Catholics still believe that the Bishop's writ should be allowed to run free; are such Catholics drawn from across the spectrum of liberal, moderate and traditionalist? I think not.
Where then does the authority of a layman to rebuke his Bishops derive from? We have, of course, the public reproof of St Paul to none other than St Peter at Antioch. St Thomas Aquinas states:
"It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence, Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11: 'Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects' "
That seems quite clear - rebukes, reproofs and all valid criticisms are legitimate and even to be encouraged.
However, they should be delivered with the fullness of Christ's charity, fairly and unequivocally. That does not mean that one has to pull any punches, far from it, just be firm but fair.