“Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another,” Pope Francis preached from St. Peter’s Square,[1] echoing the first pope’s call to holiness (cf. 1 Peter 1:15), Christ’s command to “Love one another as I love you.” (John 15:12), and God’s answer to Cain (cf. Gen 4:9). It’s clear we’re called to be our “brother’s keeper,” but how about our “father’s keeper”?

“My son [Jeremiah] became my father in the order of grace!” Dr. Scott Hahn said recently, beaming with joy, in a talk at St. Joseph’s Seminary wherein he called St. Joseph “the paradigm for priestly paternity.”[2] Do you think Jesus accompanied “Father Joseph” with needed prayerful support, encouragement, or even a charitable correction at home or in their carpenter’s workshop? Do you think Dr. Hahn will give his son Fr. Jeremiah (and another son who will soon become “Fr. Joseph”) prayerful support, encouragement, or even a paternal correction if needed? You betcha — But to be clear, let’s not start constantly berating priests or complaining about them. It’s important that we give gentle feedback — both good and bad — because it’s a sign of love.

Correction is caring. “If we truly care for one another, let’s help one another spiritually…let’s hinder those things that lead our friends away to Hell,” said St. John Chrysostom.[3] “Charity…demands fraternal correction” (CCC 1829) and is part of the spiritual works of mercy (cf. CCC 2447). In fact, St. Augustine warns: “You do worse by keeping silent than he does by sinning.” Thus, “we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them…by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so” (CCC 1868). We must “avoid rash judgment …be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so…let the former correct him with love” (CCC 2478).

Just as love calls us to be “keepers” of our biological sisters, brothers, and parents, so too are we called to be the “keepers” of our spiritual fathers. St. Paul said, “you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel.” (1 Cor 4:15). True, Less than 1% of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics are priests.[4] “But who am I to correct a priest?” you ask. St. Thomas Aquinas answers, “On the contrary…to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger…Therefore even priests ought to be corrected…but with gentleness and respect.”[5] Alexander Pope said, “To err is human.” News flash: priests are human. “All Christians are in need of this charity, especially those in positions of authority because they have more responsibility,” explains Juan Alonso.[6] The Bible says, “if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death” (James 5:20); and, “mend your ways, exhort one another” (2 Cor 13:11). Augustine advises, “correct out of love, not out of a desire to hurt.” Pope Francis said, “The supreme rule regarding fraternal correction is love: to want the good of our brothers and sisters.”[7] ). “But I’m just a lay person,” you contest? Well, lay people “have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church” (CCC 907).[8]

Why should we correct priests? Simple. We love them. If your dad made an error or can improve something that would help the whole family, I’m sure he’d want you to let him know – ditto for priests. “Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests,” said Archbishop Fulton Sheen.[9] At times the common priesthood (laity) must help the ministerial priesthood (priests). Perhaps Clint Eastwood’s movie American Sniper offers an apt analogy here: “There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Now, some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world…those are the sheep. And then you got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those who have been blessed with the gift of aggression, and the overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed that live to confront the wolf. They are – the sheepdog. Now we’re not raising any sheep in this family. And I will whoop your ass if you turn into a wolf. But we protect our own.”[10] It’s also a win-win Jerry Maguire-like “Help me, help you” thing.[11] It’s a two-fer. It helps the priest and your whole parish. “[It] brings many benefits, both for the giver and for the receiver,” explains Juan Alonso, “As a specific act of Christian charity, it bears fruits of joy, peace, and mercy. It also requires us to exercise many virtues, starting with charity, humility, and prudence.”[12] St. Ambrose said, “corrections do more good and are more profitable than friendship that keeps silent.”

Pope St. John Paul II said that the “lifelong assiduous care for [priests’] personal sanctification in the ministry and for the constant updating of their pastoral commitment is considered by the Church one of the most … important tasks for the future of the evangelization of humanity.”[13] The Church teaches, “A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders…In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill his mission for the life of the world.”[14]

Why then do we chicken out? “It’s not conflict that harms…it’s conflict avoidance,” says Doug Hinderer, a professional family therapist.[15] As the family of God, we must not shy away from the charity of giving a paternal correction when it would be good to do so. “Don’t imagine that you love…your neighbors when you never admonish them. This isn’t love, but mere weakness. Let your love be eager to correct, to reform,” said St. Augustine. “If we are silent,” Fr. Jess Ty said, “or neglect our obligation to correct…then God will hold us accountable (cf. Ezekiel 33:8)…this is serious, we cannot keep silent.”[16] St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be silent no more!…I see that, because of this silence, the world is in ruins.”[17]

Bottom line: fraternal and paternal correction is a healthy and very natural thing. Not doing it is the unhealthy and abnormal thing. We are each and all called to “fight the good fight” of faith and help each other make it to across the finish line to Heaven.

Where should I correct? Not on Facebook! St. Thomas Aquinas said, “reprove privately and respectfully,”[18] not in the handshake line after Mass. Better to go “off campus.” Go for a coffee. Go for a walk. It helps soften the tone. It avoids self-defense mechanisms. It brings down walls and builds bridges. Similarly, the confessional box is probably not the ticket either. Pray about the where and when. Ask your spiritual director for advice.

When should I correct? Don’t do it while you’re a “son of thunder.” Sleep on it (like good St. Joseph). Do it a day later as a gentle “son (or daughter) of the morning.” St. Josemaría Escrivá gives this tip: “Never rebuke while you’re still indignant about a fault committed – wait until the next day, or even longer. Then calmly, and with a purer intention, make your reprimand. You’ll gain more by a friendly word than a 3-hour quarrel.”[19]

What should I correct? In a word, sins, vices, faults. Remember, the word “sin” comes from the Hebrew word “chãtä” which means “missing the mark.” Any archer would want to hit more bullseyes. This is the goal of the spiritual life, striving for excellence. We all “miss the mark” – even the “just man falls seven times and rises up again” (Prov 24:16).

Msgr. Charles Pope in “Sins of Priests” says there are typically three areas, liturgical abuses being the most common.[20] “The priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass” says the GIRM (no. 24; cf. CCC 1124, Sacrosanctum Concilium 22.3). Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ said, “The priest does not have to be a child molester. He may simply be arrogant, patriarchal, insensitive, or just stupid. More people leave the Church because of bad priests than because of disagreements over dogma.”[21]

Another problem today: empty confessionals. “Inhabit the confessional!” Pope Francis told some 800 priests at an annual course.[22] This is one concrete way you can help your priest be a priest. Help him to sit down in the confessional box on a published set schedule (like 30 minutes before Mass) – not that vague “confessions upon request” wishy washy thingy. Help father understand how many of his “children” are afraid. Understandably, Canon Law 964 speaks of “confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor” for “the faithful who wish to, can use them freely.” Another concrete way to “help your priests act like priests” is to encourage father to dress like a priest (it helps priests and the laity). It’s a silent sidewalk sermon. Preach the Gospel always, even without words, St. Francis would tell them.

Help Father be fatherly? As important as correcting is supporting Father with your prayers and time, too. In a word, the art of accompaniment. Invite father over for dinner, a round of golf, a fathers-n-sons camping trip.[23] Send him a “Happy Father’s Day” card each year (cf. 1 Cor 4:15). A must-watch video is “Your Parish Priest Needs You” by Ascension Presents.[24] Why? Simple. Fatherhood today is under attack. In “Priests and the Importance of Fatherhood” Dr. Paul Vitz explains how the world’s family crisis stems from “a crisis in the concept of fatherhood and the very notion of manhood.” He cites numerous negative consequences of “fatherless-ness” such as its contribution to the decline of religion.[25] St. John Mary Vianney and many like him were comfortable calling parishioners their “children.” But something happened. “Priests need to recapture their identity as fathers,” Vitz says.

The author and a priest exchange a fist bump.

If you are a man, you may have noticed that grassroots “Emangelization” groups are spreading like wildfire, helping men to “beard back better” — groups like Men of St. Joseph, Paradisus Dei (That Man Is You!), Exodus 90, and many others. Simply invite father to join you. He needs his “testosterone shot” too, especially if surrounded by only women all day at the parish. St. Josemaría Escrivá admitted that initially he felt uncomfortable calling himself “father” and at first would call his spiritual son “brothers” instead of “sons.”[26] But the Holy Spirit changed his mind. Later he thanked God “for having given me this spiritual paternity” and would say, “I love you with the heart of a father.”[27] Let your priest know how much you like it when he says “son” instead of “brother.” Help him to see that the fatherly father arrives early before Mass to hear confessions and stays after Mass to check on the rest of his “children.” Father doesn’t even need to say a word at times – he only needs to be present, like Saint Joseph, casting his “father’s shadow” upon his spiritual children.

How should I correct? This is the hardest part, so, I’ve saved it for last. (If that’s an error on my part, please give me a fraternal correction in the comments section.) Jesus said, “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Mt 18:15). St Ambrose echoes, “correct him privately.” Don’t be like Ham who exposed his father Noah’s naked drunkenness publicly, without discretion or paternal respect (cf. Gen 9:21-23).[28] Not cool. Regardless of his age, if you correct your priest, do it with true filial love as you would your own biological dad or stepdad (cf. CCC 2219, 2220). Canon lawyer Gregory Caridi advises, “don’t…get the media to attack your father… talk to him one-on-one.”[29]

Almost always avoid sending your priest an anonymous note. Would you send your dad an anonymous letter? Likewise, send your priest a personal note, or — even better — speak to him face-to-face about your concern. This can open a dialogue and yield some spiritual fruit for both of you.

St. Paul says, “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). St. Francis de Sales smiles, “A spoonful of honey gets more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.”[30] It depends on the priest’s temperament. You can try the Wisdom 12:2 approach: “correct little-by-little those who trespass…” Or, St. Francis Xavier adds, “The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but while you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.” St. Josemaría Escrivá, “do it with great kindness – great charity! – in what you say and in the way you say it, for at that moment you are God’s instrument.[31] Pope Francis reminds us, “use gentleness” (cf. Gal 5:22-23) because “this is not easy. The easiest path is to gossip…this should not be done. Gentleness. Patience. Prayer. Proximity. Let us walk with joy and patience along this path, allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit.”[32]

Be kind – you might be the next one to receive a correction by someone who loves you. “We must accept correction, beloved, and no one should resent it,” Pope Saint Clement I said, “The exhortations by which we admonish one another are both good and highly profitable, for they bind us to the will of God.”[33]

In summary, the Saints say be humble, charitable, empathetic, positive, and prudent when you’re obliged to give a correction. Pray on it. Ask the priest’s guardian angel to pray for you. Ask your spiritual director what he thinks. Then act accordingly.

In closing, remember, we’re all called to become Saints. Fraternal and paternal correction, after prayerful discernment, can help you and your fellow wingmen climb higher on this wonderful formation flight to our ultimate goal: Heaven!


[1] Pope Francis’ homily from St. Peter’s Square on September 7, 2013 for the Vigil of Prayer for Peace; https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130907_veglia-pace.html

[2] https://www.cny.org/stories/scott-hahn-delivers-family-talk-at-st-josephs-seminary,22887

[3] A Dictionary of Quotes from the Saints by Paul Thigpen, TAN Books.

[4] More precisely, 410,219 priests divided by 1.3 billion equals only 0.00031555307; so, 00.03% of the world’s Catholic population today are priests. See: http://www.fides.org/en/news/72956-VATICAN_Catholic_Church_Statistics_2022

[5] Summa Theologica, Question 33 on “Fraternal Correction,” Article 4. https://www.newadvent.org/summa/3033.htm

[6] “Fraternal Correction: A Help Along the Path to Holiness” by Juan Alonso, July 2010, Christian Life article; https://opusdei.org/en/article/fraternal-correction-a-help-along-the-path-to-holiness

[7] Nov 3, 2021 in a Wednesday Audience, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2021/documents/papa-francesco_20211103_udienza-generale.html

[8] See also Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (Christ’s Faithful Laypeople).

[9] Ven. Sheen said this (and “Who is going to save our Church? Not our Bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to the people.”) at a June 1972 Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. Word on Fire article https://www.wordonfire.org/articles/fellows/how-to-restore-a-church-in-scandal-begin-with-a-collective-confession/

[10] Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper in a scene where the movie’s war hero’s father brusquely breaks life down for his son while he was just a boy at the family dinner table.

[11] This 2:41 movie clip from the 1996 sports comedy-drama movie Jerry Maguire can be watched with “paternal correction” in mind, admittedly, in a funny yet serious way.

[12] “Fraternal Correction: A Help Along the Path to Holiness” by Juan Alonso, July 2010, Christian Life article; https://opusdei.org/en/article/fraternal-correction-a-help-along-the-path-to-holiness

[13] Apostolic Exhortation by St. John Paul II “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (“Shepherds I will Give”); https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_25031992_pastores-dabo-vobis.html

[14] Lumen Gentium §37 https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

[15] https://www.happymarriageforlife.com/

[16] https://www.oloj.org/blog.php?month=202009&id=640879002&cat=All&pg=12&title=Fraternal+Correction

[17] https://fauxtations.wordpress.com/2018/09/04/st-catherine-of-siena-the-world-is-rotten-because-of-silence/

[18] Summa Theologica, Question 33 on “Fraternal Correction,” Article 4. https://www.newadvent.org/summa/3033.htm

[19] These quotes are from A Dictionary of Quotes from the Saints by Paul Thigpen, TAN Books.

[20] “Sins of Priests” by Msgr. Charles Pope, Catholic Standard, 5 June 2019. https://www.ncronline.org/opinion/signs-times/bad-priests-all-kinds-chase-people-away-christ-and-church

[21] “Bad priests, of all kinds, chase people away from Christ and the Church” by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ. National Catholic Reporter. https://www.ncronline.org/opinion/signs-times/bad-priests-all-kinds-chase-people-away-christ-and-church

[22] “Pope Francis: In confession, the priest should guide penitent to holiness” by Hannah Brockhaus, March 26, 2002, Catholic News Agency (CNA)

[23] https://aleteia.org/2022/10/26/7-ways-to-support-your-priest/  it gives 7 ways to support your priest which are: ???

[24] By Fr. Mark-Mary, CFR, Ascension Presents, 11:38 it’s all about “how to love our parish priest.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpk9G9o62q4

[25] “Priest and the Importance of Fatherhood” by Prof. Paul C. Vitz, 1 December 2008, Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

[26] St. Josemaría, Intimate Notes, October 28, 1935. Quoted in A. Vázquez de Prada, El Fundador del Opus Dei, volume I, Rialp, Madrid 1997, p. 555.

[27] St. Josemaría, Letters 11, no. 23

[28] See: https://www.catholic.com/qa/was-hams-sin-just-seeing-his-fathers-nakedness

[29] Ave Maria Radio, “Kresta in the Afternoon” 15 June 2021, https://avemariaradio.net/correcting-priests-and-bishops/

[30] These quotes came from A Dictionary of Quotes from the Saints by Paul Thigpen, TAN Books.

[31] The Forge, 147.

[32] Wed Audience Nov 3, 2021:  https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2021/documents/papa-francesco_20211103_udienza-generale.html

[33] A Dictionary of Quotes from the Saints by Paul Thigpen, TAN Books.

Image: Adobe Stock. By pressmaster.

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A convert to Catholicism for 25 years, John D. Lewis (related to Mike only in the order of grace, we think) is a bizjet pilot based in Asia with his wonder-woman wife and amazing five sons. Lewis, founder of “Josephology” Facebook Group, is the author of three books, including his latest, Journey with Joseph (which is “highly recommended” by Fr. Donald Calloway), and On Wings and Prayers: 1,001+ Quotes for a Happy Flight and a Happy Life.

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