While there are those in the left who have twisted and perverted various of the current Pontiff’s words and actions to advance their liberal and heretical agenda, such as homosexuals and anyone else who does not want to follow Church teaching, there has also been various people in the Right who have been quite critical of Pope Francis’ actions including some of his interviews and some of the words that he has said. A couple of these individuals have been quite nasty with the pope, omitting any bit of respect, and even that of giving him the benefit of the doubt. The common quote being used and badly misinterpreted is his “Who am I to judge” quote which he stated on July 29 when he gave a press conference on a flight back from Brazil. There are other events themselves which are also targeted at the Holy Father and which are used against him. This includes certain words and actions by Pope Francis that are stated to be quite ambiguous.
This brings us to the question that various people are asking. Namely if we are allowed to criticize the Holy Father? This answer is much more complex than a simple yes or no. Overall the answer to the question is yes, we are allowed to criticize the Holy Father including some of the things he says, some of his actions, and such. However we need to understand this in context and what this really means. We also need to properly understand what we mean by criticizing the Holy Father.
It is definitely true for example that several interviews and statements by the Holy Father have been quite ambiguous and need more clarity and understanding. While most of us know that what Pope Francis meant by his statement “Who am I to Judge” was not itself an acceptance of homosexual actions and lifestyle, which is itself a sin, but rather that we are not ones to judge the whys, and how’s, of why one suffers from same-sex attractions (which is a disorder due to original sin), or why one had fallen into the sin of committing homosexual acts, there are various people who honestly did not know this. Thus for those many who genuinely do not know this, it is a big reason why in my opinion Pope Francis should have offered more clarity in the matter.
In my opinion John Salza a traditional Catholic does a splendid job answering the question of whether we are allowed to criticize the Holy Father. John Salza answers the question of someone who took scandal at several actions of our late Holy Father blessed Pope John Paul II. John Salza stated:
All of the defenders of the papal office, including Jacobazzi, Cajetan, Cano, Suarez, and Bellarmine taught that a pope could indeed break with the Church’s tradition, while not binding the faithful to error. Nevertheless, we must be careful not to judge the pope, for he is the Vicar of Christ, and has no judge but God. Thus, we must let God be the judge. Yet, because God has given us an objectively knowable body of tradition, we can know whether the pope’s words and actions are consonant with this tradition, for the pope’s words and actions must be at its service. We must also keep in mind that the pope, the papa, is our spiritual father. If we wouldn’t post criticisms of our earthly fathers on internet websites, we better think hard about posting criticisms of the Holy Father on the web, particularly when they are invariably (and erroneously) interpreted as criticisms about the person of the pope.1
John Salza continues by saying:
The problem I see with many of the criticisms of Pope John Paul II is that they fail to make a distinction between the pope’s objective words and actions and his subjective intentions. The critics act like they know the mind of the pope. They often don’t make the proper distinctions. Objectively speaking, we can conclude that the Vicar of Christ should not venerate a book that denounces Christ (the Koran) or ask for God’s blessings upon the false religion of Islam. We may even say that such actions objectively cause grave scandal. But we do not know what the pope’s subjective intentions were when he did those things. Maybe it was John Paul II simply being the over-indulgent father who acted impetuously and wanted to express his love for Muslims but, presumably, not their religion. That is most likely the case. When Catholics, instead, immediately conclude that the pope has become an apostate or was really praising the false religion of Islam, they are judging his subjective intentions. They have no right to make such a judgment.2
Thus what John Salza is saying is that the pope himself could break with the Church’s traditions by acting or saying things which are not necessarily true, or at least prudent. This is true of when several statements by the Pope are ambiguous at best. To my understanding even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI thought that Blessed Pope John Paul II should not have taken several of the actions he took, such as kissing the Koran, or praying with pagans.
At the end what we must remember is that criticism of the Holy Father should always be used as the last resort, and should always be done out of charity, and with respect. As John Salza also states we need to differentiate between criticism and judgment. While we can most definitely objectively criticize some of the pope’s actions we are never free to judge him. This is because as the pope is the Vicar of Christ he has no other judge but God.
1) John Salza: No Criticism of Pope John Paul II?