The Holy Father is Christ’s vicar on Earth. He is the successor of Peter and is due our utmost respect. We should also recognize the significant sacrifice that he makes in accepting the office and the burden placed on his shoulders by such enormous responsibility.
He is also human, and except when formally speaking on matters of faith and morals with the intention of declaring infallible doctrine, may error. Even so, in charity and caution, it is usually unwise to be critical of the pope for many reasons (the first of which is you are probably wrong).
In the case of Pope Francis in particular, much of what is reported has been distorted, taken out of context, or severely twisted. I have found much of what he says goes under-reported and is actually (as one might expect from the pope) very good and worthy of thoughtful reflection.
Unfortunately, there are other times where his actions (or inaction) are problematic. Indications are we may be headed for very, very rough waters this fall as the synod on the family continues. So, what is a faithful Catholic to do? Is it wrong to speak-up or wrong to remain silent?
Steve Skojec looks at this in a recent piece on his popular blog 1 Peter 5:
I take serious issue, however, with the implication that anyone who engages in any sort of papal criticism is somehow a “spiritual pornographer” or, by insinuation,’virulently anti-Catholic.” These labels make faithful Catholics – priests and laity alike – afraid to speak the truth. Whether this is because they will lose family and friends, their jobs, or their funding, they are put in a position where voicing their thoughtful concerns becomes a serious liability. It has a stifling effect on much-needed conversation from the very people who are most qualified to offer more light than heat: parish priests, knowledgeable Catholic writers, and perhaps most especially, trained theologians in academia. These last, if they are faithful enough to Rome to have taken the oath of fidelity to the Magisterium, find themselves over a barrel: they are obligated to defend the faith, but how can they do so when it means addressing their concerns about the pope? Under accusations such as those popularized by Church Militant and others, they can lose their mandatum to teach the faith to the very students who will soon find themselves in the heart of the growing crisis.
Being afraid to speak the truth in times like these is a very dangerous thing indeed.
In response to the argument itself, the assertion that a person exposed to papal criticism will feel that they have no choice but to leave the Church, develop a schismatic mentality, or become an apostate simply does not follow. On the contrary, I’ve heard from people who are so distressed by the normalcy bias that they’re seeing when faced with troubling words or actions on the part of the pope that they have given voice to their own desire to leave the Church, or not to join it as they had previously intended. They want to know that what they’re thinking – that there are real problems being manifested that go against their understanding of Catholicism – doesn’t make them crazy. It’s absurd to believe that reassuring these people by asserting the unchanging truths of the faith – and contrasting them, when necessary, against the present situation – would somehow have a deleterious effect.
Put more simply: we didn’t make this mess, but pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t going to make it go away. Want people to stay faithful? Help them to see how what’s happening doesn’t mean Catholicism is false, but rather, is suffering exactly as we were always told it would. Show them what is true, and what the limits and boundaries of assent require. Give them a path forward, not out.
To that end, we need to look to our Church’s history. Would we say that the bishops of the Third Council of Constantinople, which posthumously anathematized Pope Honorius I for heresy, were “spiritual pornographers” or scandalizers of the faithful? Would we make such claims about the Theology faculty at the University of Paris who opposed the heresies in the personal sermons of Pope John XXII – or King Philip VI, who forbade them from being taught?
Taken further, would we make such claims about St. Paul, who publicly reprimanded the very first pope, the one chosen by Christ Himself?
There is a lot more in this thought provoking piece: Can a Catholic Criticize the Pope?. Also take a look at the many comments (over 180 as I write this).