Is my pastor above correction?

What should I do when I think a pastor is wrong?

I’m not talking about wrong with regards to civil law. That’s clearer. If I know any leader—a priest, a lay minister, a volunteer, etc.—is violating the civil law, it should obviously be reported.

I’m talking about areas of pastoral judgment. Things that aren’t spelled out, that aren’t black and white. Like if a pastor chooses to call out a particular person in the assembly directly from the altar during Mass, before proclaiming the Gospel. Or if he goes on a rant of personal preferences during a homily.  Or if a pastor insists that there will be no youth ministry in his parish because he “doesn’t believe in it.”

When it comes to questions of pastoral judgment like these, is it ever my place to offer an opinion to a pastor? What line must be crossed to make it worth my saying something? And, if I do decide to raise a concern, how do I make sure I come across charitably? What if he blatantly dismisses my concern?

As someone who genuinely loves the Church, it’s hard to balance a desire to support our leaders, especially pastors, with the nagging sense that in some situations, I should say something.

Fortunately, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) offers guidance to the faithful.

In the Catechism’s description of the prophetic role of all the baptized, we find a quote from the Code of Canon Law, explaining:

“In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, [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, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons” (para. 907).

So, what can I take away from this?

First, as a baptized person, I have at times a duty to communicate with pastors when I believe it pertains to the good of the Church. Wow. That’s quite a responsibility. I wonder how many times I have failed to do this—to take the easy road and quietly or privately grumble, rather than make my opinion known.

Secondly, this explanation also points to the right disposition I must have before I voice my opinion. My concern must be for the common good and the good of the Church. That requires a good examination of conscience, where I ask myself,

  • Am I voicing this opinion merely to win an argument out of pride?
  • To appear smarter than others?
  • As an excuse to insult or be disrespectful to my pastor?

If my concern passes through a prayerful examination of conscience and is for the sake of the common good, the good of the Church, and ultimately salvation of souls—then I should pray for the courage and charitable words to move forward and make my opinion known to a pastor.

It’s kind of uncomfortable to think of myself as having this responsibility, this duty. But I’m never alone. Why? Because this duty flows from baptism, and baptism isn’t about being dunked in some water and sent out on our own! No, baptism is a participation in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

In friendship with Jesus, I can ask him for the wisdom, guidance, charity, and love to exercise these responsibilities well—even if it means offering the challenge of a different opinion to a pastor.

Copyright © 2013, Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Reiss Vermeulen, M.Div., M.N.A., blogs, ministers in parish life and lay/deacon formation, and serves as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. She and her husband, Luke, have been married since 2011 and live in Ypsilanti, MI with their two young sons.

One response to “Is my pastor above correction?”

  1. […] this week over at, I reflected on my role as a baptized person in offering an opinion to a pastor–even when I know that my opinion is corrective or different. The question wasn’t merely […]

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